On December 28, 1908, 5:20 a.m. local time, an earthquake struck along the Straits of Messina, between the island of Sicily and mainland Italy. Magnitude of the earthquake was approximately 6.7 to 7.2, and the effects caused a tsunami, which struck within minutes. Unreinforced buildings collapsed, cities were destroyed, and the deaths were estimated at 60,000 to 120,000. The Messina Earthquake, also known as the Messina-Reggio Earthquake, continues to be examined as a case-study for disaster and risk in communities, and remains one of the top-deadliest natural events in Europe.
For those following the news in America, the disaster may have seemed far removed, but it struck a chord with many in the melting pot that is America—even in such a predominantly Scandinavian-German state as North Dakota. Italians have never been a large part of the population in the state, but in 1910, the federal census reported 1,262 Italians here. There was a small influx around those years as Italian immigrants came to the land of opportunity and even to the golden west, to work on the railroads. They had left family and friends in all regions of Italy, and they waited anxiously to hear from their loved ones in the quake aftermath.
And then there were the other residents, who were visiting Italy at the time. Such was the case of Mrs. F. A. McCanna of McCanna, N.D., a small town in Grand Forks County, and Miss Agnes Feeney of Rochester, MN. The two had left New York to travel through Italy on December 5, and the last letter sent from them had been dated December 16. However, on this date in 1909, the two women sent a cablegram from Naples to Mrs. McCanna’s nephew, D.W. McCanna, expressing that they were safe. Until that point, they had been in Taorina, on the east coast of Sicily in the province of Messina, where they stayed through the earthquake and tsunami in relative safety. They were carried to Naples in a relief ship, and had even saved all of their belongings.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
The Minot Daily Optic, January 7, 1909
The Minot Daily Optic, January 8, 1909