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Sierre 1946

What Happened in Sierre in 1946?

On Friday evening, January 25 in 1946 it was already dark and there was snow on the ground in Sierre when at around 6.32 p.m. the ground shook for several seconds. People ran out into the streets, chimneys and tiles fell from the rooftops and the streets were strewn with rubble. There was a power cut, and for 10 minutes the city was plunged into complete darkness. Very soon, the telephone lines became so overburdened that for a number of hours great uncertainty and chaos ensued.

Only the next day did the full impact of the earthquake, which had a magnitude of 5.8, become clear: 4 fatalities and 3,500 damaged buildings. The total damage caused totalled around CHF 26 million in today's money.

What Would Happen If a Similar Earthquake Occurred in the Rhone Valley Today?

Because the area is more densely settled, the consequences of an earthquake of similar magnitude would be much more severe today.

Unlike in 1946, the floor of the Rhone Valley is now densely populated, as well as being home to some large-scale industrial plants. On top of this, the valley has an unfavourable substratum: so-called 'site effects' can increase the amplitude of earthquake shockwaves along the soft sediment of the valley floor by a factor of up to 10. This means the vibrations would be much stronger here than in rocky areas, resulting in greater damage to buildings and possibly causing houses to collapse. Since even many new buildings could probably not withstand a strong earthquake under these conditions, the death toll would probably be far higher than it was in 1946.