Powerful seismic swarm rattles Campi Flegrei, sparking panic in Naples

A general view shows the Solfatara in the Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields) volcanic region in Pozzuoli on October 23, 2023. There have been many tremors in recent weeks, including two 4 magnitude quakes, the strongest in over 40 years. (Photo by Eliano Imperato / Controluce via AFP)

ROME, May 21, 2024 (AFP) A flurry of tremors of a strength not seen in decades was registered at a volcanic caldera near the southern Italian city of Naples on Monday night, sparking panic among residents but resulting in no major damage, authorities said.

One 4.4-magnitude quake was registered shortly after 8 pm (1800 GMT) at a depth of 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles), according to the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).

It was preceded moments earlier by a 3.5-magnitude tremor and followed by dozens of aftershocks.

The Campi Flegrei — or Phlegraean Fields, as the caldera is known — experienced about 150 earthquakes between 7:51 pm on Monday and 12:31 am on Tuesday, the INGV said in a report.

According to the institute’s Mauro Di Vito, “this is the most powerful seismic swarm in the last 40 years”.

Emergency services in the area reported cracks and pieces falling from buildings, while amateur video from a supermarket in the town of Pozzuoli showed bottles strewn across the floor after being shaken off shelves.

Schools in the town will remain closed on Tuesday and temporary accommodation has been established to take in frightened residents, mayor Luigi Manzoni announced on Facebook.

The INGV said it would continue to monitor the caldera and that “it cannot be ruled out that other seismic events may occur, also of similar energy”.

The Campi Flegrei is situated between Pozzuoli and Naples, which sits in the shadow of the much better-known Mount Vesuvius further to the east.

The Campi Flegrei experienced an eruption 40,000 years ago that affected the planet’s climate, and it has been a source of concern to residents and scientists more recently thanks to a resurgence of activity due to gases emitted by the magma.

“We have to live with fear all the time,” a Pozzuoli resident told the public channel Rainews. “How long will the buildings be able to hold out while experiencing all these shocks? That’s what we wonder.”

Specialists, however, say a full-blown eruption in the near future remains unlikely.