Natural Disasters The Lisbon Earthquake Part 2

About the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal which caused massive amounts of death and destruction in 1755, account of the aftermath.



At 9:30 the city was rocked by three earthquakes in quick succession. Within minutes, homes, buildings, and churches were reduced to bits of marble, masonry, timbers, and crushed bodies. By ten o'clock, dust had turned the skies dark as night. Survivors were beginning to crawl out of the debris when fires started to blaze everywhere. People rushed toward the sea to gather on the impressive quays, where they thought they would be safe. Then seismic waves, reportedly 50 to 75 ft. high, rushed shoreward. Few survived the onslaught.

In different sections of the city, the ornate opera house, museums, libraries, the king's palace, and the convents of Carmo and Trindade burned to the ground. Paintings by Rubens, Correggio, Titian, and other old masters were destroyed. The handwritten history of Charles V, as well as rare books, vintage 1500 and older, became ashes.

With the collapse of the city prison's walls, hundreds of inmates were released. King Joseph Emanuel ordered gallows constructed in the rubble-filled streets. Captured prisoners, looters, and heretics were hanged without ceremony in full view of homeless survivors. Protestant ministers unfortunate enough to be caught by parish priests were forced to submit to baptism for their supposedly sinful part in precipitating the catastrophe. Though earthquakes before and after the Lisbon disaster caused greater damage and higher death tolls, none affected a greater area.

Many of the 500 aftershocks were felt over 1.5 million sq. mi. From the epicenter off the coast of Lisbon, shock waves spread to Africa, Spain, Italy, Normandy, Brittany, and the Scilly Islands. Seismic waves reached England, Ireland, the West Indies, and Scandinavia. At least 10,000 lives were lost in Fez and Meknes, Morocco. Walls of water battered Leiden, Holland, and the Gulf of Finland.

Aftermath: Practical-minded, the king was un-swayed by the cries of the priests to intercede with the saints for forgiveness of the sins which had brought about this calamity. Instead, he asked his secretary of state, the Marques de Pombal, what should be done. Pombal answered: "Sire, we must bury the dead and feed the living."

Within a week most of the dead had been buried in mass graves. The last fires were extinguished, and food for most of the 225,000 survivors was obtained from neighboring provinces.

The rebuilding of Lisbon, was a task that took 15 years.

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