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Earthquake exercise to test emergency services

By PAULO SILVESTRE [email protected]

Civil protection and emergency services are to take part in an exercise to evaluate the effect on the Algarve today of an earthquake similar to the devastating mid-18th century event.

The 1755 earthquake in Portugal, which reached a magnitude of 8.5 on the Richter scale and killed thousands of people and left thousands homeless, will be simulated in the region on November 29.

Once the simulation begins, emergency measures in place to respond to a potential disaster scenario similar to the one in 1755 will be activated across the Algarve and teams from the Civil Protection, the INEM emergency services, Câmaras and hospitals will be involved in possible rescue scenarios.

According to Portuguese news agency Lusa, a study of seismic and tsunami risks in the Algarve (Estudo do Risco Sísmico e de Tsunamis para o Algarve – ERSA) shows that an earthquake with the same magnitude as 1755 would cause around 3,000 deaths and leave 27,000 people homeless in the region.

The aim of the exercise is to speed up the level of readiness and capacity to mobilise resources in rescue and emergency operations.

The Algarve Civil Protection commander Vaz Pinto told the Algarve Resident: “The simulation will reveal the degree of destruction of an earthquake, which will serve to test the reaction at a management level, and the coordination and command of the rescue operation forces in the region.

“It will also help us to know if there are adjustments to do in the rescue plan in case of an earthquake, or if there are some flaws that need to be improved.”

He said the exercise will allow each municipality in the Algarve to assess their ability to respond in a situation like this. 

“Each Mayor is a member of the civil protection authority and each one of them is responsible for ensuring the best possible response and to organise all help resources in case of an earthquake.”

The 1755 earthquake took place on November 1 at around 9.40am and remains the most powerful and destructive to hit Europe so far.Within minutes, many lives were lost, people displaced and livelihoods, homes and infrastructures were destroyed.

Downtown parts of Lisbon were flooded by waves that reached a height of six metres, with water flooding an area of around 250 metres from the coast. In the Algarve waves reached a height of between 10 and 15 metres and the flooded area was much larger.

With an epicentre in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 kilometres west-southwest of Cabo de São Vincente in Sagres, the earthquake of 1755 in Portugal was the first to be studied scientifically for its effects over a large area and led to the birth of modern seismology and earthquake engineering.