Portugal’s risk of earthquakes has once again reared its head in two news stories, coming in the same week.
The first, in Público describes the situation of Lisbon as being “on top of a powder keg with the fuse burning”, while the second put out by State news agency Lusa reports that the nerve centre of the capital’s Civil Protection authority is moving to higher ground, as the safest place in the event of an earthquake.
Scare stories about Lisbon’s seismic vulnerability have never been too far below the surface.
The issue nonetheless is one which experts claim politicians have repeatedly failed to address.
“If we had a repetition of the 1755 earthquake, a third of Lisbon would be under rubble and no one seems to be concerned with this”, professor Mário Lopes of the Instituto Superior Técnico told Lisbon city council shortly after New Year, stressing that the seismic problem facing the capital “cannot be resolved on a technical level”.
Público explains that from Lopes point of view, the problem “like many others in the country” is political.
“We are on top of the problem”, he added. “It is like being on a powder keg with the fuse already burning”.
Indeed, Lopes said there were “many similarities” between the Portuguese capital and Amatrice, the Italian town levelled last year in a 6.1 magnitude quake.
One of the major issues, according to Lopes, is that “neither new buildings nor the rehabilitation of old ones take into account (Lisbon’s) earthquake risk.
The Baixa area, for example – so popular with visitors and tourists- is being gentrified with new floors and projects “without any kind of reinforcement to the base of buildings”.
It is a “recipe for disaster”, Lopes told the town’s commission for urbanism and mobility.
Público stresses that Lopes’ warnings emanate from “decades studying earthquakes and how to prevent their effects”.
The “good news” (perhaps) is that the capital’s massive access bridges, Ponte 25 de Abril and Vasco de Gama, are “safer” than the majority of buildings, according to Lopes.
Público concluded its story – picked up by very few news sources – saying that councillors neither questioned or commented on Lopes’ intervention as “this was the first of a series of meetings on Lisbon’s seismic risk”.
Once the meetings have been concluded, councillors will be publishing a report with the conclusions of all the hearings.
But elsewhere, town councillors appear to be wasting no time.
The services of the capital’s Civil Protection authority are being moved to one unique space in Monsanto, due to it being “the safest” place in the city “in seismic terms”.
This terminology came from a council press notice issued on Wednesday (January 11), explains Lusa.
Staff currently based closer to the city centre in Praça de Espanha were initially against the idea, claiming it would jeopardise the service’s efficiency.
The council has since “guaranteed better conditions” for operationality and “response to the city”, the council’s statement assured, though for the time being a date for the consolidation of services in Monsanto has not been given.