Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/139

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135
THE LATEST CALABRIAN DISASTER

the inspiration of their presence and their magnificent personal courage. The actual conditions have been terrible enough, but apprehensions of phantom dangers flourish amid ignorance and superstition, and in Italy the inspiring example of the sovereigns is hardly less important to operations of succor than are the rescue corps and their supplies. It was the writer's fortune to follow somewhat closely in the footsteps of King Victor Emanuel and Queen Helena after the Calabrian earthquake of 1905, and again after the Vesuvian outbreak of the following year, on both of which occasions a similar impulse carried them at once to the afflicted districts. As a result of this experience the writer has only admiration for their conduct.

A further word may be added concerning the work of the troops which were then engaged in rescue operations, since their conduct has been unfavorably commented upon in some quarters. The writer had ample opportunity to observe their work and would submit that the army acted not only with vigor and effectiveness, but upon a thoroughly scientific plan. There is, therefore, every reason to believe that all which is possible will be done by the Italian government in the face of the much greater catastrophe which it is now facing.

It is, however, beyond Italy's power to properly meet this disaster without some help from the outside world. The first supplies of food and of hospital stores, it may be expected, will be contributed in sufficient quantity, for the horror of the event has stirred the entire western world. The greatest pinch of poverty and starvation will come when the great wave of emotion has passed and the future a,lone is to be considered. To properly appreciate this, it is necessary to consider the normal economic conditions and the recent physical history of southern Italy.

Calabria and northeastern Sicily, the provinces affected by the earthquake, are overpopulated, and from them there has been much emigration to the United States and to South America. The chief sources of income are the culture of the olive, fig, the citrus fruits, and the cereals, and in Sicily the mining of sulphur. As regards fruit and cereal culture, the peculiar conditions of farm tenure are such that even under favorable circumstances a large part of the population is kept on the verge of poverty. The sulphur mining in Sicily is carried on in a small way over most of the interior, and until a few years ago was a fairly profitable industry. Now, however, the use of pyrites as a substitute for sulphur in the manufacture of vitriol, and the recent successful exploitation of the vast sulphur deposits of Louisiana, have so reduced the price of sulphur as to threaten the only means of livelihood of a large part of the Sicilian population.

In contrast to southern Italy, the conditions of living in the northern provinces are good, and it has long been necessary for the north