Two weeks ago, at 5.23am on Monday 25th January, I was jolted from my slumbers by a noise in the bedroom. My initial thought on awakening was that we had intruders, but I quickly realised that the noise I could hear was the wardrobe, moving and creaking. Once the bed started shaking, it became clear that this was an earthquake – the first I have ever experienced.
The whole episode only lasted for about ten to fifteen seconds.
Measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale, the quake was centred 162 kilometres south-east of the city of Málaga, in the Alborán Sea, off the coast of Morocco. Over the course of the next week or so, we were to experience hundreds of smaller aftershocks – some of them gently obvious, whilst most passed without notice.
Almost five years ago, in May 2011, nine people were killed as two earthquakes struck in quick succession, bringing down scores of buildings in the historic city of Lorca, some 200 kilometres east of the Axarquía region.
The most deadly earthquake in modern Spanish history struck in Arenas de Rey (in Granada province) at 9pm on Christmas Day 1884, with an estimated magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale. As a result of that quake, which lasted just twenty seconds, 839 people were killed and 1,500 were injured. More than 14,000 homes were destroyed or damaged over an area covering 6400 square kilometres in the provinces of Granada and Málaga.
Houses of Moorish construction fared better than their more modern counterparts, due in part to construction methods, but there were devastating consequences for the Axarquía region, with sixty per cent of the houses in the village of Periana damaged and the nearby hamlet of Guaro reduced to rubble. There was substantial structural damage to property in Vélez-Málaga, Canillas de Albaida and Cómpeta.
Poor communication and the remoteness of the affected villages delayed news getting out, making the task of providing rescue and assistance for the victims extremely difficult.
In January 1885, King Alfonso XII visited many of the sites devastated by the earthquake, showing his concern for the plight of inhabitants and helping to obtain much-needed aid for local people affected.
A bronze statue to commemorate the King´s visit at that time can be seen leaning on the railings of the Balcón de Europa in Nerja.
All these earthquakes occurred in a seismically active area near a large fault line beneath the Earth’s crust, where the Eurasian and African tectonic plates brush past each other.
There are frequent micro-quakes (known as tremors) in southern Spain – almost every day in fact, but as they rarely exceed 4 on the Richter scale, most go unnoticed. It is only occasionally that an earthquake with a magnitude of 6 or more occurs.
As such, according to the European Seismic Hazard Map, the risk to the Iberian Peninsula is classed as “moderate”.
Although science has no way of determining exactly when an earthquake is going to occur, statistical evidence plays a vital part in any earthquake prediction. Historical data and close analysis of other earthquake zones are the only real indications of impending earthquakes. Such evidence suggests that Spain suffers a relatively serious earthquake once every 100 years, which in reality means that there is little ongoing awareness of the small but potential risk, as no-one is alive who remembers the last one.
Spain is hit by about 2,500 micro-quakes a year, but only a few are strong enough to be considered important.
The beauty of the landscape in the Axarquía, to the east of Málaga, is due to natural changes over millions of years, earth tremors being just one of them.
So, let´s keep this in perspective. Hundreds of people die on the roads every year yet we continue to jump into our cars every day, don’t we?
I remain, your intrepid reporter – shaken but not stirred!