• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Riviera earthquake 'is a warning to France'

Ben McPartland · 8 Apr 2014, 13:39

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.

Story continues below…

“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

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Aussie TV show accused of staging French burkini row
Photo: Channel 7 screengrab

Was an Australian TV report about France's burkini ban a set up to portray the French as "anti-Muslim"?

Five ways Paris is better than it was 15 years ago
All photos: AFP

Here's how one man says Paris has changed for the better over his last 15 years in the city.

Man in 60s wounds two in France supermarket shooting
Photo: AFP

A police SWAT team has surrounded gunman's apartment.

Paris makes 'history' by banning cars on river bank

The French capital is going green with a vengeance.

France's hospital doctors stage strike to highlight crisis
Photo: AFP

Unions have called for a "massive" walk-out among hospital doctors.

France's last 'real Camembert' cheese fights for survival
All photos: Charly Triballeau/AFP

It's a cheese maker's take on David and Goliath.

PSG's Serge Aurier sentenced to jail for attack on policeman
Photo: AFP

PSG player had attacked a police officer outside a night club on the Champs Elysées.

Paris city chiefs ready to let nudists hang out in park
Photo: AFP

A nudist park in Paris? "We're going to do it," says City Hall.

Hollande calls on UK to help solve Calais migrant crisis
Photo: AFP

The French president knows that immigration is a key issue of the presidential election battle.

Air France plane dumps fuel 'over Fontainebleau forest'
Photo: AFP

The mayor of the famous town near Paris is furious.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
National
Paris set to make river bank car-free for six-month trial
2,732
jobs available