Earthquake triggers deadly avalanche in Italy

By David Jacobson, Temblor

See earthquakes in Italy

Poor weather hampered efforts to reach the site of the avalanche as quickly as possible.


In yesterday’s M=5.7 and M=5.6 Italy earthquakes, initial reports suggested that there were no fatalities and minimal damage. However, rescue workers today found that the earthquakes caused a massive avalanche, which hit the Hotel Rigopiano, approximately 35 km to the southeast of the epicenter, leaving up to 30 people missing or dead. The avalanche not only crashed through walls and windows, but caused part of the roof to collapse, and, according to information reported by the BBC, moved the building up to 10 m off its foundation.

Aerial view of the Hotel Rigopiano following the avalanche. The deadly avalanche not only smashed through walls and windows, but according to some reports, shifted the hotel off its foundations by as much as 10 m.


Poor weather prevented rescue efforts from reaching the site until approximately 4:30 a.m. local time. Once there, rescuers were forced to shovel their way through walls of snow in their search for survivors. This rescue effort is one of several currently going on now, according to NBC. Executing these recuse efforts quickly is also vital as Italy is currently experiencing its coldest weather in 20 years, with much of the mountainous region blanketed in a thick cover of snow.

Even though the location of the avalanche only experienced moderate shaking, it was enough to trigger the deadly avalanche. In this Temblor map, the aftershock sequence is clearly visible.


According to the USGS shakemap, there was moderate shaking at the location of the avalanche. Based on this information, it means that the area experienced ground shaking of which exceeded the force of gravity by 3%. This is extremely small, and for comparison, the forces you experience when taking off and landing in an airplane exceed the force of gravity by as much as 50%.

The Hotel Rigopiano was a popular 3 star destination for skiers during winter. (Photo from ABC)


Seeing that a deadly avalanche was triggered by such a small amount of shaking illustrates the widespread effects earthquakes can cause. While it is possible that the snowpack that failed in this tragedy was ready to go, it was aided by the shaking, highlighting a seasonal earthquake hazard in mountainous regions.


NBC News

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