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Bucharest hit by earthquake measuring 5.8 on Richter scale

The Romanian capital Bucharest was hit by the strongest earthquake in 15 years on the morning of October 28, measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale.

While not strong enough to cause any major structural damage, the earthquake, which struck at 3.38am, shook houses and apartment buildings, sending many people running out into the street. The earthquake was also felt in Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine. An smaller aftershock occurred some two hours later.

“This earthquake was within the normal parametres for the Vrancea fault and we do not expect any further aftershocks,” said Constantin Ionescu, director of Romania’s National Seismology Institute.

A much-vaunted early warning system, Ro-Alert, has come in for fierce criticism in the hours following the earthquake. Many of those in Bucharest who subscribe to the service were expecting to receive an alert 20 seconds or so before the quake – the epicentre of which was close to the city of Buzau – reached the capital: enough time to take shelter in a more secure location (such as under a sturdy table). No warning was sent. Automatic systems which halt the supply of water and gas to parts of the city do appear to have functioned, however.

Raed Arafat, the boss of Romania’s Serious Crisis Unit, said that alerts would not in fact be sent, so as not to cause panic. “Warnings will be sent after the quake,” he said, which has led many critics to question the usefulness of the costly system.

Located close to a major fault line, Bucharest has been shaken by a number of major earthquakes over the years. In 1940, more than 300 people died – most of them when the so-called Carlton Block, in Piata Universitatii, collapsed – in the first major quake of the modern era. In 1977, the Romanian capital was hit by an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale. It lasted for almost a minute, during which time almost every building in the city shook wildly. More than 1,500 people were killed by the quake, including a number of celebrities, most notably comedian Toma Caragiu, at the time the most popular actor in the country.

For more information regarding Bucharest’s vulnerability to earthquakes, this piece published in 2017 by Romanian investigative journalism magazine Decat o Revista, and translated into English by Emerging Europe’s editor-in-chief Craig Turp, is an excellent primer.