• France edition
 
Riviera earthquake 'is a warning to France'
Firefighters look through rubble in the aftermath of the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake in Italy. A similar sized quake will hit France, experts say. Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP

Riviera earthquake 'is a warning to France'

Published: 08 Apr 2014 13:39 GMT+02:00

“We don’t know when a big one will come, but it will and there will certainly be fatalities.”

Those were the words of French seismologist Remy Bossu from the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) in Paris, the day after a rare earthquake measuring 5.2 magnitude on the Richter scale hit the south east of France.

Monday night’s quake, felt in towns from Nice to Marseille and Aix-en-Provence to Grenoble, may have caused little damage but it was a stark reminder, Bossu says, that south-eastern France is in a potentially dangerous active seismic zone and the next one could do some serious damage.

The last time France was hit by a deadly tremor was back in 1909 in the town of Lambesc in Provence, which left 46 people dead and 250 injured. (See photo)

The earthquake measured around 6 on the Richter scale and is the still the largest quake ever recorded in mainland France.

EMSC’s Bossu says deadly quakes of that scale hit France on average every 100 years, so based on averages a big tremor is due.

And when it does strike, Bossu says, we could see the scale of damage seen in the historic Italian town of L’Aquila which was devastated by an earthquake five years ago that left nearly 300 dead. After the quake six scientists were jailed for manslaughter for playing down the risks of earthquakes.

South-eastern France is also awash with centuries-old towns and villages like L'Aquila but whether or not the next big quake proves as devastating will depend on exactly where it strikes, Bossu says.

“If it’s magnitude 6 then it can cause damage up to 15 kilometres away. What is key is how far it will be from the nearest town or city. If it’s 10 km then the impact will be limited, but if it's close to a town like Nice then it’s a different story. It can have a huge impact. Then we are looking at a similar quake to what happened in L’Aquila," he says.

The problem scientists like Bossu face in trying to raise awareness of the danger of quakes is that, because it has been so long since France experienced a serious one, the risks are no longer in people's consciousness.

“In Italy or Greece everyone is fully aware of the risks simply because earthquakes happen more often. Everyone knows about them and it’s part of their culture, but not in France," Bossu says.

“That’s what makes our job of raising awareness very difficult. One day it will strike and there will be casualties, for sure. There’s no doubt.

“The only thing we can say is that Monday night’s quake should be a warning call to people. It is the best way for people to ask themselves, “Do I know what to do in an earthquake?”.

France has other priorities

The scientist admits however, that France has other priorities than earthquakes to concentrate its resources on.

“The number of casualties killed by earthquakes in France does not compare to the 3,000 or so killed on the country’s roads each year. We have to be honest," he says. "We don’t want to say earthquakes are an extreme risk in France but people need to be aware.”

The problem for the French authorities, Bossu says, is the cost of making buildings resistant to earthquakes.

“With new buildings it’s no problem, the building codes are easy to implement. But with old ones, like churches it’s very hard and costly to strengthen the foundations without damaging it. We see this same problem in Italy.

“If a big one comes then the church will probably be destroyed, but authorities say ‘well it’s been there for 500 years, why not 500 more’”.

What not to do in an earthquake

When it comes to how to act in an earthquake Bossu says it’s vital to remember one thing – don’t immediately run outside.

“Chimneys are the first things that fall," he says. "If you leave your home, you increase the risk of being hurt. You have to protect yourself from falling objects,” he says, advising that it’s better to get under a table.

If it's a strong shake then there will be aftershocks, so Bossu says the wise thing to do would be to cut off the electricity and gas and wait in an open area away from buildings.

He also says anyone living in those areas affected should take measures to make sure shelves and other objects are properly attached to walls and anything placed high up is securely fastened.

“Many casualties are caused by things like TVs falling off shelves. It’s stupid to be killed just because you didn’t want to make a hole in the wall. These basic things can save your life."

CLICK HERE for more on what to do in an earthquake.

SEE ALSO: French are 'unprepared' for future natural disasters

Don't miss stories about France, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How French women have changed in last 30 years
A report reveals how the life of French women has changed over the years. Photo: Shutterstock

How French women have changed in last 30 years

Less need to get married and less desire to fulfil their partner's sexual needs. These are just two ways women in France have changed in the last 30 years, according to a new report. READ  

Elysée Palace hunts for mystery 'inside' snapper
The Elysée Palace suspects the controversial photo of Hollande and Gayet may have been taken by staff. Photo: Voici

Elysée Palace hunts for mystery 'inside' snapper

As the Elysée Palace desperately tried to identify the mystery photographer who snapped François Hollande and actress Julie Gayet at the president's residence, The Local spoke to Voici, the gossip mag that published the photos. READ  

Irate Frenchman stabs pet owner over dog poo
A gardener ended up in court after seeing red over dog poo. Photo: Jon Worth/Flickr

Irate Frenchman stabs pet owner over dog poo

It seems not everyone in France can put up with dogs fouling the pavements. One irate gardener has ended up in court after confronting a dog owner and allegedly stabbing him after his animal left a deposit. READ  

Fewer foreigners gain French citizenship
Less than 100,000 people became French citizens in 2012. Photo: Shutterstock

Fewer foreigners gain French citizenship

While more and more foreigners are being naturalized across the EU, the same cannot be said in France where for the first time since 2002 the number of people granted French citizenship has fallen under the 100,000 mark. READ  

Paris and Disneyland hit by wave of pram thefts
Paris has been hit by a wave of pram thefts. Pram photo: Shutterstock/Antos777

Paris and Disneyland hit by wave of pram thefts

Hundreds of couples have been left pram-less in Paris and at Disneyland Paris in the past few months as thieves nab their costly strollers to cash in on them online. READ  

Trierweiler justifies book: 'Hollande mistreated me'
Valérie Trierweiler in an interview with the BBC. Photo: Screengrab: BBC

Trierweiler justifies book: 'Hollande mistreated me'

Valérie Trierweiler, François Hollande’s former girlfriend, has been speaking to British media about her life as the unofficial first lady and how it all fell apart. We've gathered together a few of the juiciest extracts from her interviews. READ  

Le Pen forced to justify €9m loan from Russia
France's far right has turned to a Russian lender to beef up its war chest ahead of next year's local elections. Photo: AFP

Le Pen forced to justify €9m loan from Russia

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s cash-strapped far-right National Front (FN), on Sunday justified her party's €9 million loan from a Russian Bank saying it was needed to beef up their war chest ahead of local elections, saying “French banks won’t lend to us”. READ  

Recognising Palestine?
Israel warns France of 'grave mistake'
Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu (right) has warned France of a 'grave mistake' if it recognises Palestine in a parliamentary vote. Photo: AFP

Israel warns France of 'grave mistake'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned France that its parliament would be making a "grave mistake" if it recognises a Palestinian state in a vote on December 2. READ  

Ligue 1 round-up
Gignac helps Marseille retake top spot from PSG
Marseille win to retake top spot in Ligue from PSG. Photo: AFP

Gignac helps Marseille retake top spot from PSG

Marseille regained top spot in Ligue 1 on Sunday thanks to a 3-1 win over Bordeaux. The victory keeps Marcelo Bielsa's side just one point ahead of PSG, who also won. READ  

French city bans billboards from streets
Grenoble in south-eastern France has banned all street advertising. Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

French city bans billboards from streets

The eastern French city of Grenoble has become the first city in Europe to ban all commercial street advertising. The city's Green mayor says the commercials will be replaced with trees and community noticeboards. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
French government gives 10 reasons to be proud: No. 1 - The Economy
Sponsored Article
Win your Christmas list: €250 at Marks & Spencer
Politics
France's 'first ladies': A look back at the other halves
National
Would background music make the RER in Paris feel safer?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
National
Trierweiler to break her silence... in the UK
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Winter is coming to the French Alps
Gallery
Don't confuse France with Paris: Here's ten reasons why
Sponsored Article
Live like a local - anywhere in the world
National
From the homeless to migrants: A portrait of modern France in ten stats
Culture
Are you brainy enough to be Miss France? Take the quiz
Gallery
France's most notorious celebrities. How many do you know?
Society
City of Love? Seven Paris myths debunked
Education
Why is France worst in the EU at English?
National
C'est pas possible! Paris is 'world's cheapest city for young people'
National
Looking to save space? France allows toilets in kitchens for first time
National
Find out how women in France are getting stung for a hidden tax
Culture
Which one is your favourite? The top 10 heartiest French winter dishes
Face Of The Week
Nabilla - 'France's Kim Kardashian' held for attempted murder
National
So who's scaring everyone by flying drones over France’s nuclear plants?
Education
Whoever thinks French was a dying language should read this
Politics
OPINION: 'One day France will be grateful to François Hollande'
Gallery
IN IMAGES: A history of France's most controversial architecture
National
How to make an 8-square-metre Paris apartment perfectly liveable
Gallery
VIDEO: France's raunchiest TV ads, including that infamous Perrier one
National
Five reasons why you should work a ski season in France and five not to
National
10 art exhibitions not to miss this autumn in Paris
Culture
What's on in France: 11 things to do this November
National
How French have you become? Take our quiz to find out
National
10 things to never say to a French person
National
Top 10: When French translations go wrong
National
Parisian bars that serve drinkers free meals
National
France falls to Germans in nude swim tourney
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
Society
Macholand: The online uprising against sexism in France
Gallery
In pictures: The daily life of the 2,000 migrants in Calais
Culture
Erotic promo video earns the Musée d'Orsay our "Only in France" award
National
Seven reasons why everyone should work in a bar in France
National
The cost of expat home comforts: How France compares to Europe
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se