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Greece is the most earthquake-prone country in Europe and Kefalonia is particularly liable to experience earthquakes, lying just to the east of a major tectonic fault line where the European and Aegean plates meet at a slip boundary, similar to the more famous San Andreas Fault.

strabos channel
Earthquakes have been a feature of Kefalonia’s life history and the famous hole-in-the-roof of Melissani cave was caused by earthquake activity.

Bittlestone’s team, in Odyesseus Unbound,
propose that Odysseus' Ithaka was actually the present-day Palliki peninsular, once separated from Kefalonia by the narrow Strabo's Channel and long since in-filled by earthquake debris. To date, scientific analysis of the material in “Strabo's Channel” hasn't ruled this out.

The theoretical "Strabo’s Channel”

One of the most destructive earthquakes to hit Kefalonia occurred between 09 August – 12 August, 1953, during which period the island was struck by a series of four major quakes and numerous smaller ones. At 11:24 local time the island was hit by an earthquake of magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale, according to some measurements.

The epicentre was almost directly beneath the southern tip of the island and the plate displacement raised the southern end of the island by some 60 cm (2'), making the sea mills at Katovothres redundant and stabilising the famous moving rock at Kounopetra.

Some 600 of the 125,000 or so islanders were killed. The toll could have been far higher but many had noticed strange occurrences, such as the water levels in the wells rising and falling, and were camped out in olive groves.

Virtually all of the characterful old stone buildings on the island, constructed during Venetian and then British rule, were destroyed, save for the Fiskardo area in the north of the island.

Life on the island prior to the quakes had not been easy and many islanders existed at subsistence level from agriculture and fishing. The devastation was so complete that around 100,000 islanders emigrated following the earthquake, mainly to America, Australia and South Africa.

Ghosts of the old grandeur haunt hillsides around the island, only slowly fading away. Skala, rebuilt on the Mi'Abeli area near the sea, is slowly disappearing among newly raised tourist villas. Old Farsa, a source of inspiration for de Bernières, may be resurrected 'as was' above the new village. In old Valsamata the faded paintwork proclaiming the barber's shop is vaguely legible after all these years. Substantial remains still stand in Harakti, Pyrgi, and Kampitsata, outside Poros.

Following the earthquake international aid promptly arrived, first in practical terms and then in the re-building process. Assos was charmingly rebuilt almost entirely due to the generosity of the French. Koukoumelata's reconstruction was funded by the Vergoti's, an ex-patriot family who had made their fortune in the shipping industry in America. Curiously re-modelled in the style of a Swiss village, the only stipulation was that the village be well-kept. And it is.

Elsewhere re-construction had to be more practical and, out of necessity, characterless concrete cubes superseded centuries old stonework. The blandness of the buildings is unseen amidst the abundant natural beauty all around.

Despite the fact that earthquakes cannot be predicted with any accuracy, a denied 'prediction' was irresponsibly circulated in the press that a devastating earthquake would hit Kefalonia on July 30, 2008. The only devastation was to the Kefalonian economy as Greek tourists were conspicuous by their absence.

Following the 1953 earthquake, building regulations were changed to factor-in earthquakes and all new constructions have to be reinforced with steel and be capable of withstanding major earthquakes.

Earthquakes are a regular feature of life on Kefalonia and are usually over before realisation occurs.

On 14 August, 2003 – fifty years and a day after the Kefalonia earthquake – a strong earthquake hit nearby Levkas. Although fairly substantial damage occurred, no one was killed or seriously injured and no buildings were destroyed. Kefalonia and Ithaka were hardly affected.

In November, 2003, a quake of magnitude 5.3 shook the island, causing only minor damage in Argostoli.

In September, 2005, a 4.9 quake occurred in the sea close to Lixouri. Again, only minor damage occurred.

On 27 August, 2007 a 5.1 quake occurred at sea just to the west of Kefalonia. No serious damage was recorded.


On 26 January, 2014, at 15:55 local time a 'quake registered by emsc-csem.org at 6.1 magnitude struck near Lixouri.
A number of aftershocks followed and, at 05:08 local time on 03 February, a 'quake registered by emsc.csem at 6.0 magnitude struck near Lixouri. In the space of the next two months over 3,000 aftershocks followed. Despite the intensity of these two quakes, and the number of aftershocks, less than 2% of the island's buildings suffered any damage and mostly it was minor, repairable damage. Seven people were reported treated for minor injuries,
no-one suffered serious injury. Only a handful of these 'quakes were felt in the south and east of the island and the vast majority of Kefalonia suffered no damage at all.

On 07 November, 2014,
at 09:41 local time Kefalonia was rocked by a 'quake measured at 4.9 by emsc-csem, several smaller aftershocks followed. No injuries or serious damaged recorded.

On 09 November, 2014, at 01:15 local time a 'quake measured by emsc-csem at 5.2 shook the island.

Despite the hardships earthquakes have caused, the popularity of Kefalonia, seemingly following from the success of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, has rejuvenated the island's economy and many émigrés, and/or their children, have returned to the island, harvesting the benefits of their heritage and investing in its future.

For the latest earthquake news see Kef 'quakes: wobble watch

Images from the quakes of early 2014


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