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Naples officials expand evacuation zone for volcano

Italy's third-largest metropolitan area, Naples, sits on a stunning coastline and a landscape of incredible volcanic activity. While Mount Vesuvius, in the background, is often considered the greatest eruption threat in the area, volcanologists say a sunken volcano known as a caldera, to the city's west, may be just as dangerous.

By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 4, 2014

NAPLES, Italy — Italian officials are outlining the boundaries of a new evacuation zone in an area of Naples popular with U.S. Navy personnel, the result of growing concern in recent years over the threat of a massive sunken volcano.

Proposed last month by civil protection officials in the Campania region, which includes Naples, the new zone would extend from the western edge of Naples across the region known as Campi Flegrei, which overlies a 60-square-mile sunken volcano known as a caldera. It would update boundaries from 2001 and more closely resemble a zone established in 1995 around nearby Mount Vesuvius that required communities to coordinate with regional and national officials on evacuation plans.

The Navy base command in Naples banned new leases in the Vesuvius red zone in 2012, although it allowed those living there at the time to remain. Base officials said they were following discussions about the Campi Flegrei red zone, where more than 500 Navy families lease housing, but would wait until the policy was finalized before deciding whether the base needed to respond.

“We’re not speculating at this point, but we’re monitoring,” said Sean Quinn, base emergency-management officer. “We’re looking forward to seeing what the result is.”

Formed 60,000 years ago, when a volcano collapsed into an empty magma chamber after eruption, the caldera is now a wide basin straddling the coast of the Gulf of Pozzuoli. Its landscape is marked by several active volcanic vents and an arc of large, extinct craters. The Navy’s recreation facility, Carney Park, is located inside one of the craters, Monte Gauro.

Volcanologists in Naples have elevated their warnings about the caldera in recent years, saying eruption through several vents could send ash and hot rock miles outside the eruption site. Extension of the original red zone was prompted partly by archaeological evidence showing that past eruptions have dumped material well outside the current zone.

More than 500,000 people live in the Campi Flegrei area. More than 3 million people live in the Naples area.

Community leaders, volcanologists and civil-protection officials met on Oct. 20 to discuss the new boundaries. Communities were asked to submit their comments or concerns by Nov. 30, and many are now drawing up evacuation plans required under the new initiative.

The new boundaries extend the evacuation zone to the north, into the towns of Quarto, Marano and Giugliano, and east into several Naples neighborhoods, including Vomero, Chiaia, Posilipo and Arenella. The zone already covered the towns of Pozzuoli, Bacoli and Monte di Procida.

Cities throughout the zone will be required to submit detailed evacuation plans in the coming year, including evacuation departure points for public transportation. They’ll also look at infrastructure needs, including designs to move traffic more quickly onto larger highways.

Some 15 million euros in funding (about $18.5 million) from the European Union will be distributed among the towns of the red zone to help meet their plans.

Alfonso Trincone, an official with the Campi Flegrei city of Pozzuoli, said the new zone follows a growing recognition of the caldera’s potential threat. But he said there were no immediate concerns about the area’s safety.

“There is no emergency; there is no danger,” he said. “There is nothing at the moment that Americans should be concerned about.”

Scientists in the area monitor three volcanoes — the caldera, Vesuvius and Mount Epomeo on the island of Ischia — for signs of activity.

Vesuvius is the best-known of the three, with several well-documented eruptions in its history, among them the one that buried Pompeii in A.D. 79. Its last eruption, in 1944, was witnessed by Allied troops who had recently entered Naples.

The Campi Flegrei caldera last erupted in 1538 but has been the most active of nearby volcanoes in recent years. Magma chambers miles below the caldera regularly expand and empty, causing the land above to lift or decline gradually. The phenomenon, called bradyseism, often causes frequent, small tremors in the Campi Flegrei area and occasional larger earthquakes, like a series that shook Pozzuoli in 1983.

The Navy abandoned its original base in the Campi Flegrei town of Agnano in 2005, partly because of damage caused by the tremors. It now maintains bases at the Capodichino airport, north of Naples, and in Gricignano d’Aversa, much farther north.

Questions about the adequacy of evacuation plans in the area have plagued regional officials for years. They were forced to expand the Vesuvius red zone earlier this year after scientists challenged the assumptions behind prior boundaries, pointing to evidence that an eruption could affect a wider area than thought.

The Navy base has its own evacuation plans, according to Quinn, the emergency-management official. He did not say whether they were updated to include a Campi Flegrei eruption.

Trincone, the Pozzuoli official, said Americans shouldn’t be concerned about the danger of the caldera. He said extensive monitoring would lead to early detection of any problems.

“There would be plenty of time to move people out in case of risk,” he said.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com
Twitter: @sjbeardsley

 

Carney Park, the Navy's recreation facility near Naples, Italy, is located inside an extinct volcanic crater in the city of Pozzuoli. The high volcanic activity in the region around Pozzuoli has led Italian officials to outline a larger evacuation zone in case of eruption.

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