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Lisbon’s next devastating quake now has a date!

With a perennial scare story resurrected just in time for the holiday season (click here), a researcher with the Institute of Geography and Territorial Planning has come up with a definitive date for “La Gran Orla” – the big wave and quake that will bring with it mayhem, death and devastation. And in case anyone reading this feels their heart skip a beat, relax – we will all be long dead. In fact, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren should be long dead as well.

José Luís Zêzere has explained to Diário de Notícias that the “period of return” for earthquakes on the scale of Lisbon’s Great Earthquake of 1755 is around 1700 years. On that basis, he estimates Portugal’s next horror should only come along in the next “more than 1000 years”, which, in his opinion, gives authorities ample time to get prepared.

International conference “Riscos, Segurança e Cidadania” (Risks, security and citizenship) is discussing the subject in Setúbal today (Thursday) and Friday.

As DN explains, the problem these days is that buildings are not built to ‘earthquake resistant’ specifications.

Territorial planning and civil protection have to be improved, along with the capabilities of entities like the national laboratory for civil engineering.

Zêzere stresses that even though Portugal’s Great Earthquake is the most studied quake of its kind in the world, scientists still cannot be sure which tectonic fault caused it – though it looks like it must have started “somewhere southwest of the Algarve coast”.

Thus, there are all sorts of variables.

Doomladen scenarios point to anything like 40,000 to 80,000 deaths, at least 20,000 of them in Lisbon alone – and Zêzere alerted to a much earlier quake (1531) which came from a trench below the Tejo river. Though ‘only’ a magnitude of 8.5, this quake was even more devastating than the Great Earthquake as its epicentre was on land, in Vila Franca da Xira.

With this week’s conference discussing how to begin reinforcing strategic buildings like hospitals, health centres, fire stations, shopping malls and schools, Zêzere told DN that in future urbanisations “should be protected with widths sufficient to allow the passage of fire trucks in case of building collapses”.

For families he “proposes a civil protection plan, with a meeting point where people can gather in case of catastrophe”.

All of which sounds fairly academic if one is meant to believe that none this should be happening for the next “more than 1000 years”…

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