Human Interaction: How Humans Came to Understand Tsunamis

The Messina disaster was inevitable given the close proximity of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates to the city. However, when the city was originally built and populated in the 18th and 19th century, many of the scientists and geologists were unaware of this and allowed the city to make poor architectural and cultural choices. Even after the earthquake, the causes and mechanisms of earthquakes were initially unknown, which appropriately spurred research in studying Earth’s geologic activities. Soon after, many realized that while the architectural design of the older masonry buildings were considered to be more beautiful, they needed to be replaced by one story wooden structures to accommodate the unstable ground. 1 This was the beginning of a whole new perspective in which individuals became more aware of the fact that they could not control nature and had to give in to the demands of the Earth.srl_80-2_hs_fig3

In the end, this disaster sparked an initial connection to Earth’s foundation and it’s delicacy. Scientists, engineers, architects, mathematicians, etc… were all starting to pay greater attention to Earth’s surface and the ground below. The disaster also quickly became a global issue as international aid helped the Italians rebuild their lives. In fact, the The United States Congress speedily passed the largest appropriation in history up to that time to bring additional supplies and building materials to construct emergency shelter for the tens of thousands of homeless victims. The United States also happily took in a large number of immigrants who were displaced by the tsunami, which created an understanding that climate refugees2 were a natural part of tsunamis.3 This was the first time that nations realized the powerful effects tsunamis had on people and the need for countries help one another through these disasters.

  1. Pino, Nicola Alessandro, Alessio Piatanesi, Gianluca Valensise, and Enzo Boschi. “The 28 December 1908 Messina Straits Earthquake (Mw 7.1): A Great Earthquake throughout a Century of Seismology.” Historical Seismologist. Last modified 2009. Accessed December 15, 2014. http://www.seismosoc.org/publications/SRL/SRL_80/srl_80-2_hs.html.
  2. Although the term “climate refugees” wasn’t actually used at this time.
  3. “America’s Greatest Humanitarian Deed: Responding to the Messina Earthquake of 1908.” New York Council for the Humanities. Accessed December 15, 2014. http://www.nyhumanities.org/events/event.php?event_id=2768.

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