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Earthquakes then ....

ImageOver two hundred and fifty years ago, there was a disaster in Lisbon that was like the Great Fire of London and the Tsunami in 2004 all rolled into one ....

On November 1st 1755 there was a huge earthquake under the sea, near to Lisbon in Portugal.  Within moments of those first underwater rumblings, waves 15 metres high were racing onto the land, flattening the houses and churches and drowning thousands of people in one of Europe's most beautiful cities.   And as if that wasn't bad enough, within hours a huge fire had started to rage across the city.  It was one of the most shocking days ever in Europe's history.

In Lisbon alone, sixty thousand people died. But the tremors and dangers caused terrible death and destruction thousands of miles away.  In Morocco ten thousand people died in the earthquake, and the shaking was felt as far away as Liverpool!   It was before the Richter scale for measuring earthquakes had been invented, but it was definitely one huge quake.

ImageWhen disasters hit the world now, like the horrors in Pakistan or Turkey or the Indian Ocean in recent years, there can be immediate action:   news travels faster than the speed of light through the internet, e-mails, television, radio, newspapers.  Appeals for aid are launched immediately  governments organise international aid policies, and ordinary people give millions of pounds, as well as food and blankets and tents - things that can be raced across the world in aeroplanes.   Journalists like George Alagiah from the BBC News can be at the scene within hours, to report back to us what is happening.

But what was it like when the Lisbon earthquake happened all those years ago?  People in Great Britain could read about it at their local coffee shop in newspapers like the London Gazette:

"Lisbon January 14th 1756  A few Days ago arrived here a Merchant Ship, with a Cargo of Corn, being Part of the Provisions &c &c sent by the King of Great Britain for the Relief of the distressed Sufferers at this Place".

"January 25th 1756  The King and Royal Family (of Portugal) are still obliged to reside in Tents, notwithstanding the severity of the weather, as do most of the inhabitants".

Instead of appeals for aid being broadcast across England, A Day of Publick Fasting and Humiliation was appointed for 6th February 1756 - when people could reflect on what had befallen people suffering from the Lisbon Earthquake".

If you would like to read about how one Stoke Newington man set out in a ship for Lisbon to find out for himself what was happening - and how it all went wrong - but led to huge improvements in prisoners' righs - have a look at Issue 3

Thankyou to David Verry for the picture of the Lisbon Earthquake, and to the BBC for the picture of George Alagiah

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