1940 Vrancea earthquake

Coordinates: 45°45′11″N 26°55′55″E / 45.753°N 26.932°E / 45.753; 26.932
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1940 Vrancea earthquake
1940 Vrancea earthquake is located in Romania
1940 Vrancea earthquake
UTC time1940-11-10 01:39:05
ISC event901696
Local date10 November 1940 (1940-11-10)
Local time03:39:36 (EET)[1]
Magnitude7.7 Mw[2]
Depth133 km[3]
Epicenter45°45′11″N 26°55′55″E / 45.753°N 26.932°E / 45.753; 26.932
Areas affectedRomania, Moldova
Total damage65,000 homes destroyed
Max. intensityX (Extreme) [2][4]
Foreshocks6.5 Mw (22 October, 8:37 am)
Aftershocks5.5 Mw (11 November, 8:34 am)[5]
Casualties1,000 dead, 4,000 injured (USGS)[6]
593 dead, 1,271 injured Romania, 78 dead Moldova (URBAN-INCERC)[6]

The 1940 Vrancea earthquake, also known as the 1940 Bucharest earthquake, (Romanian: Cutremurul din 1940) occurred on Sunday, 10 November 1940, in Romania, at 03:39 (local time), when the majority of the population was at home.

The 1940 earthquake registered a magnitude of 7.7 on the moment magnitude scale, being the strongest earthquake recorded in the 20th century in Romania.[7] Its epicenter lay in the Vrancea zone at a depth of about 133 km. The area of maximum intensity for this earthquake was 80,000 km2[4] and macroseismic effects were felt over an area of more than 2,000,000 km2.[3] Effects were reported to the north as far away as Leningrad, over 1,300 km away,[8] with estimated seismic intensities of IV–V (MCS degrees), to the south, as far as Greece, to the east, up to the Kharkov–Moscow line, with estimated intensities of V–VI (MCS degrees), in the west, as far as Belgrade, Budapest and Warsaw.

Tectonic setting[edit]

Vrancea lies within the Carpathian Mountains, which were formed as part of the Alpine Orogeny. The convergence across this zone stopped about 20 million years ago, but the area remains seismically active. The earthquakes have reverse fault focal mechanisms and define a southwest–northeast trending zone about 70 km long by 30 km across. The depth range of the earthquakes extends from 60 km down to about 200 km. Seismic tomography studies show that the area is underlain by a body with a high seismic velocity. There are two models available to explain these observations, a detached subducting slab and delamination of the lower crust. The near vertical geometry of the high-velocity body combined with the focal mechanisms are consistent with extension along the body. Combined with the lack of a clear planar zone of seismicity that would be expected for a subducting slab, this is consistent with some form of delamination.[9]


1940 was characterized by a very high seismic activity in Vrancea.[10] In the first months of 1940 there were earthquakes of magnitude 4.5–5 that occurred at depths of 130–160 km. On 24 June, there was an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 at a depth of 115 km, scarcely felt in Wallachia and Moldavia.[10] There followed a period of relative calmness until 3 October, when an earthquake of magnitude 4.7–5.0 occurred at a depth of 150 km.[11]

On the evening of 21 October, there were many earthquakes, of which the most important took place around midnight at a depth of 100 km (M=4.5). On the morning of 22 October, at 08:37, a stronger earthquake occurred in Vrancea, of magnitude 6.5 and maximum intensity of VII on the Mercalli intensity scale, at a depth of 122–125 km;[12] this quake was strongly felt, especially in Wallachia and Moldavia. Only light damage, for example, cracks in walls and broken windows, was reported, but no casualties.[11] This earthquake did not have immediate aftershocks.

At the beginning of November there were, however, several earthquakes over 4.0 at about 140–150 km depth.[10] On 8 November, at about 14:00, less than two days before the catastrophic earthquake, there was another earthquake of magnitude 5.5 at a depth of 145 km, which was also felt in Bucharest.[11] A day later, in the afternoon of 9 November there were several weak and local earthquakes, around the town of Panciu, movements which passed almost unnoticed by the population (II–III degrees on the Mercalli intensity scale).[1]


External videos
video icon Cutremurul din 10 noiembrie 1940 on YouTube
video icon Землетрясение в Кишинёве, 1940 г. on YouTube
video icon Rumanian Earthquake on British Pathé
Rescue operations for survivors in Carlton Bloc

The earthquake was felt in Bucharest, where 267 people were killed in the collapse of Carlton Bloc,[13][14] a 14-story reinforced concrete structure, the tallest building in the city at the time. After the earthquake, the basement was engulfed in flames which hampered the intervention of rescue teams.[12] Almost all ceilings of the concert halls collapsed. The American Embassy, the Post's hotel, the building of the Ministry of Agriculture and that of the General Staff were reported destroyed.[7] According to the documents of the National Firefighters Museum, 185 buildings completely collapsed in Bucharest, and another 412 were seriously damaged.[7] The Romanian General Association of Engineers undertook a detailed study of earthquake effects on reinforced concrete buildings.[15] The main conclusion was that the guidelines used for constructing reinforced concrete buildings, did not take into account possible seismic movement. Following the study, new rules were developed and applied to all postwar buildings.[citation needed]

Focșani, a city 150 kilometres (93 mi) northeast of Bucharest and the epicentre of the quake, was reported in ruins;[11] Panciu was destroyed in 90%,[3] although most of the buildings were made of wood, while the number of casualties is uncertain (22 to 62 deaths, 54 to 300 injured);[16] Galați, the site of the German submarine base, also suffered severely; and Giurgiu, the principal oil port on the Danube, saw public buildings and factories completely destroyed. In Câmpina, a densely populated oil town, refinery chimneys toppled, houses collapsed, and pipelines burst, dousing the ground with a sticky and inflammable threat. In the heavily guarded Ploiești, a few field fires broke out, but were later reported extinguished. In Chișinău were reported 78 deaths and 2,795 affected buildings, of which 172 destroyed.[17]

The earthquake also caused significant morphological effects in the Earth's crust, especially in the sub-Carpathian regions of Wallachia and Moldavia; these effects manifested by landslides, fissures, settlements, formation of cracks in the surface layers of the crust, water spurting from cracks formed alongside rivers. According to recorded testimonies, luminous phenomena were observed, both in the epicentral area and in regions that are far away from the epicenter.[18]

Controversial death toll[edit]

Initial dispatches, reported casualties that were based on sketchy evidence, however on the second day official reports gave 267 killed and 476 injured all over the country until the evening of 10 November.[6] After the emergency response phase, Tillotson (1940) gave many details of the effects of the earthquake around the country and said that due to telecommunications still interrupted a conservative estimate would place the casualties at 400 killed and 800 severely injured in Romania, with more than 150 killed in Bucharest where 30 or more were still trapped under the debris of Carlton and more than one thousand badly damaged houses had to be evacuated. Time magazine (1940) said that about 98 bodies were extricated from under Carlton debris, while there were 357 killed and thousands injured in all the country.[6]

In 1982, the published memoirs of the vice-premier of Romania at the time of the event, indicated 593 killed and 1,271 injured in all the country, and in Bucharest 140 killed from the 226 occupants of Carlton block, with another 300 injured in the city.[6] The rest of the country's casualties were mostly in masonry buildings. Near the epicenter, the city of Focșani and the town of Panciu were heavily damaged and many people died. The cities of Galați and Ploiești were seriously affected, as was the region of Muntenia.[citation needed]

In a research conducted by the National Research and Development Institute URBAN-INCERC, the death toll stands at 593, while 1,271 were injured, with a further 78 killed in Moldova.[6]

Spatial distribution of casualties in Romania due to the 1940 Vrancea earthquake[6]
Location County Dead Injured Remarks
Carlton Bloc Bucharest 140 86 Assuming 226 occupants
Various locations Bucharest Some 300
Panciu Putna 44 70–190 Rădulescu (62 dead, 300 injured); Adevărul newspaper (42 dead, 70 injured); Ziarul de Iași (42 dead, 76 injured); Nature (23 dead, 71 serious injuries)
Focșani Putna 12 115 Nature (70% of buildings destroyed)
Galați Covurlui 34 40–130 Nature (36 dead, 130 injured)
Various locations Covurlui 107 Unknown
Bârlad Tutova 12 20
Huși Fălciu Few 20
Vaslui Vaslui Few Few
Târgul Berești Covurlui Few 0
Tecuci Tecuci 19 20
Buzău Buzău 20 Unknown
Râmnicu Sărat Râmnicu Sărat 0 5
Pătârlagele Buzău Few Unknown
Iași Iași 8 5
Câmpina Prahova 6 Unknown
Doftana prison Prahova 21 78 40 seriously injured
Ploiești Prahova 7 Unknown
Mărgineni prison Prahova 4 Unknown
Valea Boului Prahova 4 Unknown
Boldești Prahova 3 Unknown
Apostolache Prahova 3 Unknown
Scăieni Prahova 2 Unknown
Mălăești Prahova 2 Unknown
Various locations Prahova 14 270 In Bertea, Românești, Bănești, Mislea, Coțofenești, Teișani, Aluniș, etc. (1 death per location); 110 seriously and 160 lightly injured (excl. Doftana prison)
Mizil Buzău Few Few
Târgoviște Dâmbovița Few Unknown
Craiova Dolj 5 Few
Turnu Măgurele Teleorman 0 Few
Tulcea Tulcea Few Few
Constanța Constanța 0 Few
Elsewhere in Romania 94 360

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Elena Marinescu (28 April 2009). "Mărmureanu, contrazis: marele seism din 1940 a fost o replică!". România Liberă (in Romanian).
  2. ^ a b Kronrod, Tatiana; Radulian, Mircea; Panza, Giuliano; Popa, Mihaela; Paskaleva, Ivanka; Radovanovich, Slavica; Gribovszki, Katalin; Sandu, Ilie; Pekevski, Lazo (2013), "Integrated transnational macroseismic data set for the strongest earthquakes of Vrancea (Romania)" (PDF), Tectonophysics, 590: 9, Bibcode:2013Tectp.590....1K, doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2013.01.019
  3. ^ a b c Diana Scarlat (6 October 2013). "Cele două axe ale cutremurelor din România – București-Sofia și Vrancea-Chișinău". Jurnalul Național (in Romanian). Archived from the original on 23 January 2015. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b A. Pantea; A. P. Constantin (9 November 2009). "Reevaluated macroseismic map of Vrancea (Romania). Earthquake occurred on November 10, 1940" (PDF). Horia Hulubei National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering.
  5. ^ Petre Țurlea (March 2009). "Cutremurul din 1940". Historia (in Romanian). Archived from the original on 27 August 2015. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Building Damage vs. Territorial Casualty Patterns during the Vrancea (Romania) Earthquakes of 1940 and 1977" (PDF). Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. 2012.
  7. ^ a b c "POVEȘTI DE BUCUREȘTI. Cutremurul din noiembrie '40, cel mai puternic din secolul XX, a durat trei minute!". Adevărul (in Romanian). 5 March 2011.
  8. ^ "Cutremurul din 10 noiembrie 1940 – date sintetice". INFORISX (in Romanian). Archived from the original on 23 November 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  9. ^ Koulakov, I.; Zaharia, B.; Enescu, B.; Radulian, M.; Popa, M.; Parolai, S.; Zschau, J. (2010). "Delamination or slab detachment beneath Vrancea? New arguments from local earthquake tomography" (PDF). Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. 11 (3). Bibcode:2010GGG....11.3002K. doi:10.1029/2009GC002811. S2CID 53485994.
  10. ^ a b c Mihaela Lazarescu. "Seismic risk in Romania" (PDF). Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d "Cutremurul vrâncean din 1940". Cutremur.net (in Romanian). Archived from the original on 27 August 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  12. ^ a b Romulus Cristea (10 November 2006). "Tragedia de la blocul "Carlton"". România Liberă (in Romanian). Archived from the original on 22 October 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
  13. ^ I. Vlad; M. Vlad (October 2008). "Behavior of dwellings during strong earthquakes in Romania" (PDF). Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.
  14. ^ Time.com
  15. ^ "Dezvăluiri de la cel mai PUTERNIC CUTREMUR din SECOLUL XX. Acum s-ar putea întâmpla la fel". Realitatea.net (in Romanian). 4 November 2013. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  16. ^ Cherciu, Cezar (2005). Vrancea și Ținutul Putnei: O lume de altădată 1921–1945 [Vrancea and Putna Land: A world of yesteryear 1921–1945] (in Romanian). Focșani: Andrew. p. 286. ISBN 978-973-87581-0-0. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  17. ^ Stepanenco, N (2011). "Câmpul macroseismic al cutremurului vrâncean din 10 noiembrie 1940" (PDF). Buletinul Institutului de Geologie și Seismologie al Academiei de Științe din Moldova. 1.
  18. ^ "Cutremurul din 1940 – 70 de ani". Cutremur.net (in Romanian). 9 November 2010. Archived from the original on 11 November 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.

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