Bucharest, November 23 – An earthquake measuring 5.7 magnitude on the Richter scale hit the Vrancea seismic area in Romania s east on Saturday evening.
The earthquake was felt in the capital Bucharest, as well as in other cities in the Muntenia, Moldova, and Dobrogea regions – South, North and East. It was felt for more than 30 seconds, according unofficial estimates.
The depth of the quake was 40 kilometers, which is why it was felt quite strongly around the epicenter.
This was one of the strongest earthquakes felt in Romania in recent years and also the strongest this year. The previous stronger earthquake was felt in Romania on October 6, 2013. That one was 5.5 degrees on the Richter scale.
The quake was not followed by any reports of injury or material damages.
Dan Lungu, a sprightly 70-year-old expert on seismological risk, is taking a morning stroll down a street in the centre of the Romanian capital, pointing out historic buildings that are slowly falling apart as he goes. They are the victims not only of neglect, but seismic activity. “Bucharest is the most dangerous major city in Europe when it comes to earthquakes,” Lungu explains.
Nearly 40 years ago, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck 60 miles away from Bucharest. The resulting shockwaves destroyed more than 30 high-rise buildings in the Romanian capital as well as thousands of other structures. An estimated 1,578 people were killed with a further 11,000 injured. It was one of the most devastating events in recent Romanian history.
“In that 1977 quake, 33 [high-rise] buildings in Bucharest were completely destroyed, but many others were damaged,” says Lungu. The former director of the Romanian National Institute of Historical Monuments points to the metal brackets that were attached to building walls as a quick-fix solution soon after the earthquake struck. The fact those brackets are still there today, and that little has been done to shore up these heritage buildings, is of major concern to Lungu and others trying to protect both the city and its structures.
Bucharest is a beautiful and little-known European city, with an historic heart full of crumbling, ornate, early 20th-century buildings. A walk down Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) in the heart of the city takes you past former palaces, majestic hotels dating from the turn of the 20th century, and the homes of some of the country’s most renowned historical figures, including George Enescu, the country’s best-loved composer.
But Bucharest is also the most earthquake-prone capital in Europe, affected by numerous small tremors every year – and many of its older buildings are in real danger of collapse.
In the late 1990s, the Romanian government began a programme of building assessments, placing red circular plaques on buildings that were deemed likely to collapse in an earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher. The idea was to identify the buildings so that efforts could be made to preserve them and protect their inhabitants, with residents being given interest-free loans to carry out the necessary repairs.
To date, 374 buildings in the heart of the old city (containing as many as 2,700 apartments) have been classified as Class I risk. Many are still inhabited by long-term residents; people seeking cheap rent or those unable to afford to live elsewhere in the capital. Rents can be a third less in these buildings than in neighbouring apartments.