Photo Credit: USGS via Facebook

On Wednesday, August 24, the residents of the Apennine regions in central Italy were jolted awake at 3.36 a.m. by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. To make matters worse, it was followed by over 80 aftershocks, including a 5.5 magnitude tremor that hit Umbria an hour later, at 4.33 a.m.

The shakes, felt as far north as Bologna and as far south as Naples, caused massive destruction in Italy’s Umbria, Lazio, and Marche regions. Particularly affected was the Amatrice in the Lazio District. More than half of the town’s structures have been reduced to rubble, and over 200 of the 261 fatalities reported thus far, have occurred here. As the mayor said, “The town isn't here anymore."

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The earthquake also claimed the lives of 46 people in the town of Arquata del Tronto and 11 in the town of Accumoli. In the past two days, rescuers have managed to pull out over 200 people trapped under the rubble. But as time goes by, the possibility of finding additional survivors is starting to diminish, leading to fears that the death toll may rise substantially.

The hundreds of aftershocks that continue to rock the area make the already tough rescue efforts even more challenging. In addition to leveling more buildings, they are also causing landslides and destroying bridges and tunnels. As a result, some of the smaller towns are now inaccessible by road. The surviving residents, many of whom have lost their homes, are now waiting for this nightmare to end and begin the arduous process of rebuilding their lives.

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Meanwhile, about 5,000 miles away, the tiny nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Southeast Asia is also trying to recover from a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the area a few hours after the tremor in Italy. Fortunately, thus far, only three people are believed to have lost their lives. The powerful tremor has however been devastating for the Myanmar's ancient structures and temples. Initial estimates indicate that about 200 Buddhist temples and pagodas, built between the 11th and 15th centuries, have been damaged. Most are located in the city of Bagan, which lies about 15 miles from Chauk , the epicenter of the earthquake.

As to why Italy’s earthquake did far more damage despite being weaker (6.2 vs. 6.8 magnitudes) than the one experienced in Myanmar? That according to experts, is all to do with the difference in the depth of the earthquake. Italy’s tremor, which originated between 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) and 6 miles (10 kilometers) underground, was extremely shallow, and therefore, much more damaging. That’s because the Seismic waves did not have to travel too far to the surface. The one that struck Myanmar, on the other hand, originated from a depth of 52 miles. By the time the Seismic waves reached the surface, they had lost some energy and were unable to cause as much damage.

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The earthquake’s timing may also have been a factor for the difference in the number of casualties. Not only did the one in Italy strike in the wee hours of the morning when everyone was sleeping, but it also hit during the peak tourist season, when the population of the area is substantially higher.

Geologists say that though the earthquakes may appear to be related because they struck within hours of each other, they are two isolated events. According to John Bellinni of the U.S. Geological Survey, they occurred in two completely different seismic zones, and it was not possible for one to trigger the other. Michael Steckler, a geophysicist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, concurs, and adds that the two events were simply too far apart to be connected.

Recovering from such devastation is not easy. But with the outpouring of support and donations from the rest of the world, the people of Italy and Myanmar will hopefully remain strong and start rebuilding their lives soon.,,,,