Hundreds evacuated after 4.4 magnitude quake in southern Italy

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Around 140 inmates from a women’s prison near Naples were evacuated for structural assessments, while a dozen apartment buildings were also emptied for checks, displacing about 40 families.

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A women’s prison near Naples was evacuated as a precaution on Tuesday after a 4.4 magnitude earthquake struck, with its epicentre at an active volcano west of the southern Italian port city. The quake also forced hundreds of residents to sleep in tents or cars.

No injuries and only minor damage was reported.

The quake was the strongest ever recorded around the Phlegraean Fields, a sprawling area of ancient volcanic centres near the Tyrrhenian Sea, according to Giuseppe De Natale, a volcanologist at Italy’s INGV National Geophysics and Volcanology Centre.

During the previous major event in 1984, approximately 40,000 residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure due to intense seismic activity, amid fears of an eruption that ultimately did not happen.

Around 140 inmates at a women’s prison in the Pozzuoli suburb were evacuated as officials assessed the structure for damage. Additionally, a dozen apartment buildings were evacuated for structural checks, resulting in the displacement of around 40 families, according to RAI state TV.

Some 150 smaller tremors overnight kept the population on edge. At least 500 people sought refuge in tents set up by the civil protection agency, while others opted to stay in their cars. Major traffic jams were reported as people tried to flee the area.

The area around the Phlegraean Fields is both seismically and volcanically active. The surface has been pushed up 1.3 metres since 2006, which is higher than prior to the last major event in 1984. Yet, De Natale emphasised it is impossible to predict when an eruption or stronger quake might occur.

At least 500,000 people reside in the area most vulnerable to the volcano’s potential eruption, prompting the INGV to urge the government to develop a plan ensuring that structures can withstand an earthquake of at least magnitude 5.0.

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