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President Marcelo in Sagres to raise earthquake awareness on 50th anniversary of last major quake

President Marcelo has been in Sagres, Vila do Bispo, this morning on the 50th anniversary of the country’s last ‘major quake’, measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale, in which 13 people died.

The initiative was part of a wider push to raise awareness about the risks populations face living under the threat of earthquakes.

As IPMA, the institute of sea and atmosphere, conducts an online inquiry into the memories of nationals caught-up in the 1969 horror, Marcelo spoke to an assembled crowd and then went on to a lunch with local mayors and dignitaries.

His invitation came from Lagos mayoress Joaquina Matos whose council will be hosting a public session on earthquakes and their gathering risk at the town hall on Friday afternoon (3.30pm).

The reality, explain today’s reports, is that the another major quake on mainland Portugal is “imminent”.

According to Pedro Proença Coelho, geologist at Coimbra University, the risks here are very different to those experienced in the archipelagos as problems stem from tectonic faults that have been forced open within the ‘Iberian microplate’ and are under increasing pressure from the African plate.

Indeed risks multiply as the African plate continues to pressure the Iberian ‘microplate’ (part of the larger Eurasian plate).

But beyond being ‘aware’ of the situation, there seems very little anyone can do.

It has to be said nationals have been expecting ‘another large quake’ for decades.

It’s just the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ that are difficult to predict.

IPMA has increasingly sophisticated equipment and capacities in this regard, say reports, thus the focus has to be on making populations aware of what they can do to help themselves.

Lisbon, the Tejo valley and the Algarve remain ‘danger areas’ in terms of populations (with the risks in the Algarve increasing exponentially during the summer season), and although all modern buildings should have been built to withstand earthquakes, the truth, say the experts, is that no-one can be sure until their strength is tried.

Tonight there will be commemorative programmes on national television recalling the ‘69 quake that left a trail of destruction throughout the country.

Says Observador, it struck in the early hours of what was a Friday morning, first in Lisbon, then in Coimbra, and finally in the Algarve.

Only two of the deaths came as a result of buildings collapsing. Eleven people died “in the panic of trying to flee”.

At sea boats were ‘almost lifted into the air’.

The captain of the Esso Newcastle, on a transatlantic voyage, said he felt as though his vessel had been “hit by an underwater object”.

Portuguese João Rocha on the ‘Manuel Alfredo’ told Diário de Lisboa that he felt his boat was “being pulled over slabs of stone”. The water around it turned “brown and thick” and wave patterns were “not normal”.

Reports at the time suggested a tsunami with waves travelling at 400 kms/hour was then registered “throughout the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, in north Africa, the Canaries, Azores and Madeira” – but the largest wave here measured only 41 cms high, and in Casablanca 60 cms, thus damage was minimal.

The quake nonetheless is remembered as the largest of the 20th century, though still a great deal less violent than the historic quake of 1755 in which tens of thousands were killed and large parts of the country devastated.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com