44 years ago the strongest earthquake to affect modern Romania was happening. Eversince, the imminence of a more or less catastrophic earthquake is periodically brought into the attention of the public opinion. Actually, for us, it is hard to say what a “catastrophic earthquake” means, given the bad state in which thousands of buildings are. So we can “easily” label as downright dangerous any earthquake of over 6 on the Richter scale.
Bucharest is the second capital most exposed to seismic risk, after Lisbon. The first “documented” earthquake in Romania took place in 1802. The number of victims is not known, but it seems it had a magnitude of 7,4 on the Richter scale. In the 20th century, Romania was hit by two major earthquakes: the one in 1940 and the one in 1977.
The biggest earthquakes in Romania
Year Magnitude Victims
1802 7,4 unknown
1940 7,4 200
1977 7,2 1.503
1986 7,0 50
1990 6,7 2
“The great earthquake” on the 4th of March 1977, with the epicenter in the Vrancea area and a magnitude of 7,2 on the Richter scale took place at 21.22 and was followed by approximately 250 aftershocks, until the 13th of March 1977. The strongest aftershock had the magnitude of 4 on the Richter scale and happened 90 minutes after 21.22. The earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale had devastating effects on Romania: in 55 seconds it made 1.578 victims, out of which 1.424 in Bucharest. On a national level there were approximately 11.300 wounded and 35.000 residences collapsed. Most of the material damage was in Bucharest, where over 33 buildings and big blocks collapsed. The entire town of Zimnicea was destroyed and rebuilt from scratch.
Approximately 75% of the victims lost their lives as a result of the collapse of the buildings – two thirds were caused by the collapse of the buildings made of various masonries – followed by the victims of the post-seismic fires. Next are buildings made of reinforced concrete, those unprotected against seismic activity. The epicenter of the earthquake was located at a depth of 100 km, the shock wave being felt in the entire Balkan area.
It has been estimated that in Romania and earthquake of 7 on the Richter scale would cause damage of 5 billion euro or 3 percent of the GDP. Moreover, according to a study made by the World Bank, more than half of the insurance companies would go bankrupt.
(an article by Edward Pastia)