The Lisbon Earthquake In 1755: The First Modern Disaster

Dynes, Russell R.
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Disaster Research Center
The timing of the Lisbon earthquake made it a topic of discussion and disputation among intellectuals involved in what has come to be known as the Enlightenment. In part, it challenged growing liberal views about the miracles and wonder of nature itself. And it seemed to reaffirm the presence of God that many were trying to make abstract, distant and benign. The interest here, however, is that the earthquake on November 1, 1755 can be considered the first “modern” disaster because it was first to evoke a coordinated state emergency response as well as a forward looking comprehensive effort for reconstruction which included mitigation efforts to reduce future disaster efforts. Major earthquakes were not new. There had been a major earthquake in Port Royal, Jamaica in 1693 and in Catania, Sicily and in Naples in 1693. But most of Northern Europe was seismically stable and for most Europeans, earthquakes occurred elsewhere. Lisbon was not the first to evoke governmental interest. At times, European governments have been involved in the process of reconstructing colonial towns and villages destroyed by earthquakes. But when the Lisbon earthquake occurred, it became the focus of attention for the “relevant civilized world”. Revised version of Preliminary Paper #255 (1997)
Earthquake-Case Studies , Historical Account