On December 28th 1908 Italy saw one of its worst natural disasters killing over 80 – 120 thousand people. It is often referred to as Europe’s worst quake.
At 5.20 am earthquake estimated between 7.1 and 7.5 struck the Strait of Messina. It was felt as far north as Naples and throughout Sicily. If the quake lasting nearly minute was not destructive enough, seafloor displacement caused tsunami waves, averaging about 39 ft, crashing in to the local coastlines.
The towns of Messina and Reggio Di Calabria were completely decimated along with major damage in all coastal towns in Sicily and southern Calabria. Relief efforts where hindered by damage to roads and rail lines, slowing helps arrival to the affected areas. Being in the winters months also caused its own aggravations. As the main shock occurred in the early hours survivors fled in just their night clothes. As most buildings had been torn down people where forced to take to caves and grottoes to escape the blistering cold and rain. It is believed many simply froze to death.
It took the area several years to recover, with many relocating around Italy or immigrating to USA.
This was not first major incident in the area nor will it be the last. In 1693, 60,000 people were killed in southern Sicily by a similar earthquake, and in 1783 most of the Tyrrenian coast of Calabria was raised by a massive earthquake that killed 50,000. The saving grace is since 1908 engineering techniques have come on tenfold and the region does implement some building codes making sure they can withstand larger shocks.