On Tuesday 24 March, the city of Zagreb awoke to another seismic tremor. Having experienced a significant 5.5 magnitude earthquake on Sunday, which tragically lead to the death of one city resident, many, much smaller aftershocks followed. Today's tremor then should perhaps have come as little surprise. Responding residents, checking on the city streets from behind their curtains, may have been more surprised by the thin blanket of snow which lay on the ground. But not much more surprised. After all, it had also snowed a little after Sunday's earthquake and snow in March is not uncommon. Certainly, there was no surprise to be found in the response to the happenings of the morning.
'Another earthquake!' screamed some sections of the press and others on social media. 'And don't forget the snow!', 'How can this be happening all at once?', 'What is going on with mother earth?'
Prince 'Sometimes it snows in April' (1986)
Since Sunday, there have been over 70 minor seismic events in the region. And, almost each has been followed by a fanfare of hyperbolic media announcements. News outlets have been racing to get those clicks. The by-product of this behaviour has been to scare the living daylights out of a population already living under the very real threat of Coronavirus. In these testing times, the merchants of doom are in full swing. And they are not helping anybody.
'The probability of a stronger earthquake happening here, something the magnitude of 6.5, is roughly 10% in every 50 years,' says Snježan Prevolnik, seismologist at the Croatian Seismological Survey and the department of Geophysics at the University of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in Zagreb. 'This means that such an earthquake does happen here, but only around once in every 500 years. We live in an area of seismic activity. Whether it will happen now or in 100 years, we cannot know.'
Speaking on the phone to Time Out Croatia on Tuesday 24 March, after explaining we are in no worse danger of seismic activity than we have been for the last 500 years, a calm Prevolnik downplayed the subsequent tremors. 'It is normal. It will happen not just for the next few days and weeks, but probably for the next few months. But these are all due to the larger earthquake that happened on Sunday.'
Prevolnik was also keen to stress that, in opposition to uninformed theories circulating, this seismic activity is completely unrelated to any occurring simultaneously in other parts of the world. 'Panic is not good. It would be wrong to say everything is now fine, because there has been damage and a loss of life. People just need to be aware they are living in a seismic active region where, in the past, much stronger earthquakes than this took place. We just have to be educated. If we know how to behave, this can minimise the damage.'
With months of earth tremors ahead of us, you have to wonder how many fear-inducing headlines will accompany them. But, it would be wrong to assign all responsibility for fraught nerves and raised blood pressure solely to the media. However hyperbolically they may do so, they are just reporting the news. If nobody was interested in such stories, nobody would make such stories. Some people just seem interested in inviting horror, worry and fear into their lives. And, like a deadly virus all of its own, they infect their families, friends and all those around them with this fear. Such an impact on the collective mental health of the population at a time of very real danger is potentially catastrophic.
Zagreb's cathedral, damaged in Sunday's earthquake
While diving head first into a 24-hour rolling news feed of global Coronavirus stories, endless earthquakes and, Heaven help us, snow, society's pessimists have the ability to drown the rest of us in their wake. How are you improving the life and circumstances of yourself and those closest to you by knowing that twenty new cases of Coronavirus were today reported in Peru?
Of course it's important to keep informed about Coronavirus and how it affects us locally, but with much of Europe on a full lockdown and people simply advised to stay in their homes, a five minute daily scan of the news is enough to keep updated. Is there really any need to stay transfixed to perpetually rolling news coverage (or for the media to keep publishing such)? Croatia has been through worse than this in the relatively recent past. And there's a voice from that time which stands in direct opposition to this damaging and distasteful fearmongering; it's the one of togetherness and of social responsibility.
Almost as soon as Sunday's earthquake subsided, Zagreb's football fans were out on the streets, protectively masked and helping the clean up, the armed forces and at the hospital. Five Croats in Amsterdam managed to raise €125, 000 in just two days as a relief fund for the city. In other Croatian cities, football fans and the wider public have assisted in the response to Coronavirus; people have volunteered to make face masks and large community groups have been voluntarily set up to assist those in isolation.
Zagreb football fans assist at the hospital in the aftermath of Sunday's earthquake
Just today, players and management of the Croatian national football team announced they had raised 4.2 million kuna to aid the effects Coronavirus and the earthquake have had on the population. There is so much we can do when we stay optimistic and come together. Feeding the flames of fear with irresponsible reporting and ill-informed comments on social media are not part of any solution. Do yourself a favour and next time you see them, ignore those nonsense headlines and loony rumours. Find something positive and productive to do instead.
The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and not necessarily shared by Time Out Croatia