Pozzuoli, a picturesque port town outside Naples, is now a place where conversations revolve around fear and uncertainty after seismic activity surrounding a supervolcano in the area, known as the Campi Flegrei, or Phlegraean Fields.
The region is named after the ancient Greek word for “burning,” and it’s aptly named as sulphurous fumes frequently escape from the ground, creating a surreal atmosphere that attracts tourists.
The residents of Pozzuoli have grown accustomed to the smell, the fumes, and even the occasional trembling of the earth. In September alone, there were over a thousand small earthquakes.
However, it was the 4.2 magnitude earthquake on September 27, the most powerful in over 40 years, that triggered concerns about a possible “seismic crisis.” This term has not been used since the early 1980s.
Although the big earthquake didn’t cause significant structural damage, it, along with approximately 500 smaller quakes in October, has left residents on edge. Annamaria Scardi, a mother of two teenagers, expressed her worries, even about the smaller tremors. The fear of a looming evacuation adds to the stress. She, like others, wonders where they would go if such an order was issued.
Experts have stressed that there’s no immediate threat of a volcanic eruption, but they are concerned about the ground’s uplift and descent, which could destabilise buildings. The shifting ground, known as bradyseism, is linked to the filling and emptying of magma chambers deep beneath the Earth’s surface.
During a similar crisis four decades ago, the situation persisted for several years, leading to the temporary evacuation of 40,000 people from Pozzuoli, famously the hometown of actress Sophia Loren.
Today, families are grappling with divided opinions. Vincenzo Russo, for instance, wants to stay, while his wife and children are searching for a home in a safer area. The constant fear and the ever-present tremors have taken a toll on residents, creating a sense of unease.
However, not everyone is consumed by fear. Some, like Angelo Prezzini and his friends, continue with their daily activities. Prezzini, 78, is prepared to defy an evacuation order, while 66-year-old Luigi Ilardi takes a more stoic perspective, having grown up accustomed to the seismic activity in the region.