Earthquakes in Málaga: How likely are they?

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.

Earthquake near Malaga, Spain

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.

King Alfonso XII stands on the Balcón de Europa, 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”.

Seismic Hazard risk in Europe

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.

Velez-Malaga and Torre del Mar

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!


31 thoughts on “Earthquakes in Málaga: How likely are they?

  1. It’s good to hear all is well and thanks for such an informative post. As you say, our vehicles offer a much higher risk on a daily basis! I loved your sign-off … “shaken but not stirred”. Too good!

  2. It’s good to hear all is well and thanks for such an informative post. As you say, our vehicles offer a much higher risk on a daily basis! I loved you sign-off … “shaken but not stirred”. Too good!

  3. How terrifying, but so glad it was minor! We experienced a smaller one in La Coruña in August 2010 early in he morning, which woke us up, but again, no damage at all, thank goodness! Thank you for the info.

  4. We lived in Vancouver for 25 years, any day could have been “the big one.” I only experienced one notable one, when the buildings down town were swaying. I feel safer from earthquakes in Spain. Glad you are Ok.

  5. We were woken at exactly the same time and experienced this in Almunecar. The whole place shook for several minutes. Thanks for putting my mind at rest regarding frequency of earthquakes like this in Spain.

  6. Glad you’re OK, Marianne. Thanks for sharing the info. Really interesting post. Weird how there’s a small area of high risk around places like Brussels and Lisbon and then almost no risk in other areas just a few hours away. The mysteries of this crazy planet, eh?!

  7. Great article. We were there for the earthquake – gave me a shock but Big Man slept all the way through it! Nearby village of Periana has some interesting photos in Bar El Verdugo from the earthquake you mention at the end of the 1800s and the damage caused.

    • I was interested to research the subject not only for myself and my family, but so that people who want to visit this beautiful area won’t be afraid to do so.

      I was reassured (and pleasantly surprised) by the Seizmic Hazard map showing only a moderate risk.

      Thanks for your very kind words, Ron 🙂

  8. So Brussels is more dangerous than Axarquia (as can be seen from the map) (and as far as earthquakes is concernced 🙂 ). Thanks for giving me a good argument to convince my wife to come to Axarquia….
    Geert, some 30 kms north of Brussels

  9. Africa is crashing into southern Europe. One day the Mediterranean will disappear and southern Spain will be part of a massive mountain range to rival the Himalayas.
    But not for a while yet 🙂
    Stay safe and enjoy the sea view while you can!

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