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On March 4, 1977, Romania was shaken by a powerful earthquake with a recorded magnitude of 7.4 on the Richter scale. The tremor hit the southern part of Romania at 21.22 UTC +2. The epicentre was situated in the Vrancea Mountains, the most seismically active part of Romania at a recorded depth of 94 km. The devastating earthquake lasted 55 seconds. The shockwave was felt in the entire Balkan region.
It was the most violent natural phenomenon to affect Romania in the twentieth century from a human loss point of view. It was the fourth largest earthquake to affect Romania in the past 200 years.
The toll it took was profound both materially and from a casualty point of view. 1,578 persons lost their lives, crushed or suffocated under the rubble, of which 1,424 were in Bucharest. The total number of injured rose to 11,300, while 32,900 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Immediately after the quake, 35,000 families were without shelter. Nearly 760 economic units were affected.
The economic losses are believed to have been as high as two billion US dollars though the sum was not confirmed by the authorities at that time.
A detailed report on the destruction that the terrible quake caused was never published.
In the nation's capital, Bucharest, a great deal of buildings collapsed. The city centre was particularly affected, the quake destroying iconic buildings such as the Scala building, the Continental-Colonadelor building, Dunarea, Casata, Nestor and others. Out of the 33 many-storeyed buildings that collapsed, 28 were built before the year 1940.
Countrywide, the worst hit counties were those that were situated in the vicinity of Bucharest: Prahova, Dambovita, Teleorman, Vaslui, Iasi, Galati, and Buzau. The city of Zimnicea, for example, needed a complete rebuild.
The quake was not confined to Romania as the destruction spread to neighbouring Bulgaria as well. In the city of Svishtov, near the border with Romania, over 100 people were killed and three large blocks of flats collapsed.
At the moment the earthquake hit, Romania's Head of State Nicolae Ceausescu, together with his wife, were paying an official visit to Nigeria. Ceausescu learned of the disaster back home from a Romanian official.
The initial news reports regarding the quake were confusing and the populace talked of an even bigger catastrophe. Due to the power outages that affected the Capital, emergency and standard broadcasts were unavailable for some hours.
The populace went out into the streets fearing possible aftershocks to the massive earthquake while emergency services lagged and were in a state of disarray.
Ad-hoc rescue teams were formed at the sites were buildings were destroyed. Medical staff, military personnel and workers of different professions all turned up to work.
Nine hospitals were put out of service and the Floreasca Emergency Hospital, although severely damaged was assaulted by injured people. It would later be evacuated and the nearby Dinamo Stadium became a selecting point for the wounded.
The work of repairing and re-establishing utilities - water, gas, electricity and communications - continued until the morning of March 5.
After re-establishing contact with the authorities on site, Nicolae Ceausescu decreed a state of emergency on the entire territory of the country. The presidential couple and the Romanian delegation for the official visit to Nigeria returned to Romania during the night from March 4 and 5, 1977. In the days to come, the Head of State paid visits to Bucharest to evaluate the damage.
The teams of firemen and soldiers that were tasked with saving possible survivors from the rubble were aided by the Red Cross. They were also joined by the stuntmen employed by the Buftea film studio and many volunteers. Numerous victims were saved from under the rubble, some of them after days of being trapped, long after rescuers hoped to still find survivors.
Among the notable individuals that lost their lives in the disaster mention should be made of Toma Caragiu, one of the greatest actors of Romania; folk singer Doina Badea, film director Alexandru Bocanet, Anatol E Baconsky, poet and prose writer Alexandru Ivasiuc, writer Mihai Gafita, Corneliu M Popescu, the most appreciated translator of Mihai Eminescu's work died at only 19 years of age. Other high-profile persons from the era lost their lives, such as poet Daniela Caurea; writers Mihail Petroveanu, Veronica Porumbacu, Nicolae Vatamanu and Viorica Vizante; actress Eliza Petrachescu; pianist and composer Tudor Dumitrescu; linguist and literary scholar Ioan Siadbei; mezzosoprano Mihaela Maracineanu; singer Filofteia Lacatusu; scenographer Liviu Popa; physicist Florin Ciorascu.
Beside the loss of human lives, the earthquake also caused the disappearance of a lot of architectural monuments. The communist regime used the situation brought about by the earthquake to demolish a number of buildings deemed unwanted for various reasons. For example the Enei Church, opposite the National Theatre and the Intercontinental Hotel and next to the damaged Dunarea building was demolished even though it withstood the disaster. The Dunarea building was deemed irreparable and during its demolition, the demolition crew intentionally struck the steeple of the church. The monument was not saved, nor were the murals and frescoes of high artistic value within, painted by Gheorghe Tattarescu. The former main office of the Romanian Fine Arts Union on the Sevastopol Street was given the same treatment: demolition. Once started, the removal of as many as possible architectural monuments and houses of worship soon extended to encompass the removal of art collections as well. Under the guise of safe keeping the works of art, private collections and memorial houses had their works of art repossessed, later on the idea for an Art Collection Museum appearing and being implemented. AGERPRES
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