December 28th, 2004


This Day In History, 1908

December 28, 1908

At dawn, the most destructive earthquake in recorded European history strikes the Straits of Messina in southern Italy, leveling the cities of Messina in Sicily and Reggio di Calabria on the Italian mainland. The earthquake and tsunami it caused killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Sicily and Calabria are known as la terra ballerina--"the dancing land"--for the periodic seismic activity that strikes the region. In 1693, 60,000 people were killed in southern Sicily by an earthquake, and in 1783 most of the Tyrrenian coast of Calabria was razed by a massive earthquake that killed 50,000. The quake of 1908 was particularly costly in terms of human life because it struck at 5:20 a.m. without warning, catching most people at home in bed rather than in the relative safety of the streets or fields.

The main shock, registering an estimated 7.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, caused a devastating tsunami with 40-foot waves that washed over coastal towns and cities. The two major cities on either side of the Messina Straits--Messina and Reggio di Calabria--had some 90 percent of their buildings destroyed. Telegraph lines were cut and railway lines were damaged, hampering relief efforts. To make matters worse, the major quake on the 28th was followed by hundreds of smaller tremors over subsequent days, bringing down many of the remaining buildings and injuring or killing rescuers. On December 30, King Victor Emmanuel III arrived aboard the battleship Napoli to inspect the devastation.

Meanwhile, a steady rain fell on the ruined cities, forcing the dazed and injured survivors, clad only in their nightclothes, to take shelter in caves, grottoes, and impromptu shacks built out of materials salvaged from the collapsed buildings. Veteran sailors could barely recognize the shoreline because long stretches of the coast had sunk several feet into the Messina Strait.

My Younger Brother Had a Letter in Today's Times

Joshua's letter can be found here, or just read it below:

To the Editor:

I can attest to the strange looks and comments dads receive when seen with their children during weekday working hours. I had the privilege of being a full-time father for an all-too-short six-week period when my daughter was 4-to-5 months old. On more than one occasion, I was asked where her mother was or praised for "babysitting" my own child.

Until society accepts the idea of fathers as primary caregivers, men serving in these roles will face the stigma and isolation discussed in your article.

One step in the right direction would be eliminating the still prevalent pay disparity between men and women, which may drive some married couples to make stay-at-home decisions based on who has the lower income rather than on the best needs of the child.

Another improvement would be for more employers to value the parental responsibilities of their employees by supporting programs like paid parental leave and allowing flex-time and part-time work arrangements.

Joshua Burstein
Rego Park, Queens
Dec. 22, 2004