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The 1963 Skopje earthquake shocked the world

Posted in Disasters, Famous news stories on Saturday, 29 October 2011

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This edited article about disasters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 851 published on 6 May 1978.

Skopje earthquake, picture, image, illustration

The devastating earthquake in Skopje by John Keay

A pathetic man carrying a canary in a cage . . . a woman screaming frantically as she tore at the rubble of what had once been her home. These were among the survivors of an earthquake which shattered the city of Skopje in the south of Yugoslavia on 26th July, 1963.

It had begun with a dull rumble as the earth’s crust began to split, displacing tons of rock beneath the surface. As the ground began to cave in, so did the buildings.

A hotel swayed drunkenly and collapsed, its foundations torn away. For hundreds of guests it had been their holiday home; now it was their tomb.

Everywhere in the city, the story was being repeated with the continuous thud of falling masonry, the splintering of glass and the blinding clouds of dust.

Homes were smashed. Walls collapsed, ceilings fell in, bricks and beams fell. Wide fissures appeared in the streets.

As soon as the outside world heard of the earthquake, help began to pour in. Firemen, doctors, nurses and rescuers raced to Skopje. Hospitals made emergency arrangements to look after the flood of injured victims.

At the final count, 1,600 people had been killed and many thousands injured. A total of 34,000 homes had been smashed and 68 schools destroyed, or largely so. Not one hospital remained undamaged.

Two days after the earthquake, 150,000 people had been taken out of the city. They were housed in tents or other emergency accommodation until more permanent homes could be found for them.

A grim inspection was made of the houses that remained erect. They were daubed with paint to indicate their fitness. Green showed that the houses were habitable; yellow that they could be repaired and red that they had to be demolished – and there was more red paint used than that of any other colour.

This tragedy touched the hearts of people throughout the world. Thousands and thousands of pounds were raised to provide the people of Skopje with food, clothing and temporary homes.

With this help, Skopje slowly and painfully began to recover from the earthquake which had pummelled most of the city to powder. Plans were made for villages of temporary homes, in which the people could recover from their physical and mental wounds before tackling the immense job of building a new Skopje from the rubble of the old.

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