«The South trembles. A disaster»: this is how «La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno» of 24 November 1980 reports the tragic earthquake that had occurred in Irpinia the night before. «At 19.35 yesterday, the quiet Sunday in the South was shattered by a tremendous earthquake, with its epicenter at Eboli, with an intensity between 9 and 10 on the Mercalli scale. Six others followed until 21.33. There was no light, people poured into the streets throughout Puglia as well. Then the picture is more and more dramatic by the hour: hundreds, perhaps, the dead in Potentino and in Campania ». The correspondents on the disaster sites bear witness to the pain of the citizens of Basilicata and Puglia: «In Potenza, fear is in everyone’s eyes. The city, still late in the evening, is experiencing its terrible shock. The earthquake was of unprecedented violence and devastated three quarters of the town. It is not possible to make a balance of the dead and wounded».
Official estimates speak of around 2700 victims, but the final count is still uncertain. The earthquake, which lasted 90 interminable seconds, destroyed squares, streets, houses; it knocks down bell towers, churches, hospitals; exterminates entire families and forever marks the history of those places and the survivors. In Puglia the violence of the earthquake caused damage and injuries especially in the Foggia area.
In Bari «the telluric tremors that followed each other within seconds caused indescribable scenes of panic. After the first moments of terror, realizing what was happening, people immediately poured out of their homes. Entire condominiums emptied in minutes. Time to grab coats and blankets and then the race to the countryside. As if everyone had passed the word. […] The roads out of the city by 8pm were completely clogged.”
The earthquake was also felt by those who were in the cinema or theater at the time: at the Piccinni the show that was in progress was suspended, but it was still resumed more than half an hour later with about thirty spectators. “At the time of writing, the fear in the city continues unabated. Numerous families still stop on the street and prepare to spend the night in the open. Equipped with coats and blankets to shelter from the cold, the terrible, very long seconds of the tremors are still commented on. Someone, at this memory, still cries ». Vito Carbone’s report ends on a curious note: «No one in Bari remembers such a strong shock. The most disparate hypotheses on some premonitory signs of the earthquake intertwine. Someone mentions the fact that yesterday morning around noon all the traffic lights in Murat’s center were “blown”. Just a coincidence?”.