A cultural event from USA: America’s Greatest Humanitarian Deed: Responding to the Messina Earthquake of 1908

A lecture by Salvatore J. LaGumina – Wednesday, April 21, 2010 – 6:30pm

  “Messina, Reggio, and Surrounding Towns Wiped Out – 90 Killed in Messina,” “Italy Shaken; Thousands Die,” “Four Battleships Ordered to Naples.” These were only a few of the American newspaper headlines reporting on Europe’s worst natural disaster.

At 5:20 AM on December 28, 1908 the earthquake that erupted in the Messina straits and which was followed by a vicious tsunami, struck with punishing and lethal fury at Sicily’s eastern coastline and the Calabria region of southern Italy. Respective neither of class nor social position, the disaster cut a swath of horrifying death to a cross section of society along with incredible destruction. It was estimated that more than 90% of Messina’s buildings were destroyed leaving thousands homeless. Stupefied and stunned survivors faced a grim, hopeless winter.

Aid was to come from many nations most particularly the United States. Coincidentally the Great White Fleet – the largest and most powerful naval armada that was sent on a world cruise to showcase American naval power by President Theodore Roosevelt – was approaching the Suez Canal from the east when the earthquake struck. A number of ships were diverted from the flotilla to bring assistance in the form of efforts to extricate victims buried in rubble along with desperately needed medical aid and food.

The United States Congress speedily passed the largest appropriation in history up to that time to bring additional supplies and building materials to construct emergency shelter for the tens of thousands of homeless victims. Navy personnel were then assigned to supervise the construction of housing, hospitals and churches for the destitute people. They completed their task in a few months winning the hearts and appreciation of the Italian government and its people. It is considered one of America’s greatest humanitarian efforts – America at its best.

United States response to the Messina Earthquake provides the basis for comparison to its response to other more recent natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

This power point presentation is based on Dr. Salvatore J. LaGumina’s recently published book “The Great Earthquake: America Comes to Messina’s Rescue”.