Earthquakes and Tsunami

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Earthquake risk study reveals dark scenario

PRELIMINARY RESULTS from a study assessing earthquake and tsunami risks in the Algarve have revealed that a tremor like the one experienced in 1755 could lead to around 3,000 fatalities and make 27,000 people homeless in the region (See The Resident, September 7, 2007).

The Estudo do Risco Sísmico e de Tsunamis para o Algarve (ERSA), the seismic and tsunami risk study for the Algarve, which began on January 1 2007, is due to be completed by December this year.

The aim of this study is to provide detailed knowledge of the risks of these events in the region as well as develop an emergency plan for the Algarve in case of a major earthquake.

Preliminary results for this study, which included the collaboration of nine technical and scientific research teams, were presented to the Internal Affairs Minister on February 20 at the University of the Algarve in Faro.

These nine Portuguese research teams include departments from the Algarve and Porto Universities as well as the Centre for Geographic studies, the National Civil Engineering Laboratory, the Institute for Earth and Space sciences, the Meteorological Institute, the National Institute of Engineering, Technology and Innovation and the Superior Technical Institute.

Dark scenario

So far, the preliminary results reveal that in the event of an earthquake like the one which hit the country in 1755, measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale, the Barlavento area would be affected the most, with around 3,000 fatalities predicted.

Several other scenarios were also included in the study, such as an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale with its epicentre in Tavira, like one which occurred in 1722. This is predicted to cause around 12,000 fatalities and destroy 18,000 buildings, with the eastern Algarve region being most affected.

Areosa Pena from the Meteorological Institute told The Resident: “In central and southern Portugal, we register around 400 to 450 earthquakes every year, with the average size being between 2 and 3.5 on the Richter scale.”

He also said that the number of tremors recorded is increasing as the Meteorological Institute has been expanding its detection network since the late 1990s, allowing for more detailed information to be collected.

Susana Silva, national director for emergency planning said that the emergency plans developed from the results of the study will be tested in the field in 2009. The main aim of the plans is for the different emergency services to respond efficiently together and deal with the most serious injuries within 72 hours.

“In the first few hours of a disaster, it is very difficult for people to organise themselves within the region, so help will have to come from neighbouring districts or countries” said Susana Silva.

A spokesman from the Civil Protection authority told The Resident: “Although there isn’t yet an earthquake emergency plan specifically for the Algarve region, all of the services are trained to deal with all kinds of emergency situations,” adding: “The most important thing in these types of events is for people to remain calm and not panic.”

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