February 23

This Day in History

Disaster

Feb 23, 1887:

Earthquake strikes Mediterranean

On this day in 1887, an earthquake off the Mediterranean coast of southern France and northern Italy destroys villages and kills more than 2,000 people. At the time, the area was, as usual, playing host to visiting tourists from all over Europe celebrating Mardi Gras, including the Prince of Wales.

It was 6 a.m. when the tremor, estimated to have had a magnitude of 6.0, struck near the Italian coast. In the Riviera de Ponente region, every community suffered significant damage. The worst-hit towns were Genoa and San Remo. Thousands of people tried to flee Genoa in the aftermath; those who couldn't leave were left sleeping outside as most buildings were heavily damaged. The Ducal Palace, a famous landmark, collapsed. In San Remo, an estimated 300 people died, and in perhaps the worst single incident of the earthquake, about 300 others in Bajardo, who had taken refuge in a church after the first tremor, died when the church collapsed. In all, about 1,500 people on the Italian side of the border lost their lives.

On the French Riviera the damage wasn't quite as bad, although a small tsunami caused by an offshore landslide did kill scores in Mentone. The Prince of Wales was in Cannes at the time and the British royal family urged him to immediately evacuate. This was made difficult by the thousands of people fleeing the area by train—many of them wearing only the pajamas they had been sleeping in because they did not want to risk going back into the hotels for their other possessions.

Many refugees fled to Monte Carlo. Although it was actually closer to the epicenter, Monte Carlo is located on solid bedrock that is less vulnerable to earthquakes. In recognition of the tragedy, gambling was suspended in Monte Carlo for several days.

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