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Aviano community gathers for 40th Anniversary of Friuli Earthquakes

Sergio Mattarella, Italian Republic President, speaks during the 40th Anniversary memorial ceremony, in remembrance of the Friuli Earthquake May 6, 2016, Udine, Italy. The president honored the region with his presence and embraced the resilience of the communities throughout the regions affected in 1976. (Courtesy photo)

Sergio Mattarella, Italian Republic President, speaks during the 40th Anniversary memorial ceremony, in remembrance of the Friuli Earthquake May 6, 2016, Udine, Italy. The president honored the region with his presence and embraced the resilience of the communities throughout the regions affected in 1976. (Courtesy photo)

An aerial view shortly after the Friuli Earthquake on May 6th, 1976, in Gemona, Italy. The following 12 months, hundreds of more tremors continued as construction efforts pushed on. The largest tremors struck September 11 and 15, when four aftershocks of 5.4-6.0 magnitudes caused additional damage and human casualties. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An aerial view shortly after the Friuli Earthquake on May 6th, 1976, in Gemona, Italy. The following 12 months, hundreds of more tremors continued as construction efforts pushed on. The largest tremors struck September 11 and 15, when four aftershocks of 5.4-6.0 magnitudes caused additional damage and human casualties. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen from the 40th Tactical Group, now the 31st Fighter Wing, lay dirt for a road during relief efforts following the Friuli Earthquake May 6, 1976, in Gemona, Italy. Tremors continued for the next 12 months resulting in more than 950 deaths, 2,400 injured and 45,000 to homeless. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen from the 40th Tactical Group, now the 31st Fighter Wing, lay dirt for a road during relief efforts following the Friuli Earthquake May 6, 1976, in Gemona, Italy. Tremors continued for the next 12 months resulting in more than 950 deaths, 2,400 injured and 45,000 to homeless. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --

The President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, 120 Italian political advisors, 31st Fighter Wing leadership and members from the Northeastern region gathered for the 40th Anniversary memorial ceremony, in remembrance of the Friuli Earthquake May 6, 2016, Udine, Italy.

At approximately 10 p.m. May 6, 1976, in the town of Gemona, a 4.6 magnitude foreshock began to shake houses, schools and churches. Soon after, a thundering 6.5 magnitude earthquake followed, crumbling nearly everything in the surrounding area.

The tremors were felt in neighboring countries Austria, Slovenia, Germany and Belgium.

“The earthquake’s damage was catastrophic,” said Aungelic Nelson, 31st Fighter Wing historian. “Reports stated that since the quake was just beneath the earth’s surface, it resulted in an overwhelming amount of exerted energy below the towns throughout the region.”

Relief efforts began immediately following the earthquakes. Together, Italian, U.S., and other NATO ally relief organizations commenced the rebuilding of the region.

Airmen from the 40th Tactical Group, now the 31st FW, helped clear debris, performed search and rescue missions, attended the injured and helped rebuild the local communities. Along with the 40th TG immediate response, the U.S. Congress appropriated $25 million to aid the reconstruction efforts, which was the largest donation among NATO allies.

“The U.S.’s presence in the rebuilding of this region was huge,” said Lt. Col. Dennis Phillips, 31st Civil Engineer Squadron commander. “The joint effort between the Italian and U.S. Forces in 1976 is a direct reflection to the current relationship we have and continue to build with our host nation partners.”

For the following 12 months, hundreds of more tremors continued as construction efforts pushed on. The largest tremors struck on September 11 and 15, four aftershocks of 5.4-6.0 magnitudes caused additional damage and human casualties.

“The seismic activity was continuous,” said Nelson. “It must have been heartbreaking to make progress in the city’s reconstruction just to have it knocked back down months later.”

When the tremors finally stopped, human casualties totaled more than 950 deaths, 2,400 injured and 45,000 to homeless.

The Friuli earthquake has become the Italian symbol for effective reconstruction efforts due to the strong will of people in the region. This tragedy served as a wakeup call and modernized earthquake emergency management and post-quake damage reconnaissance.

“Every community carries within itself the signs of their own history:  joys, griefs, courage in one’s actions, mistakes,” said Sergio Mattarella, Italian Republic President. “The earthquakes of 1976 taught Italy and the people of the Friuli region how to ‘get up, and start again’. It forced the people forward, toward a ‘New Friuli’, yet always maintaining its strong identity.