Italian women's prison, hundreds of residents evacuated after 4.4 magnitude quake in southern Italy

MILAN (AP) — A women’s prison near Naples was evacuated as a precaution Tuesday following a 4.4 magnitude quake with an epicenter at an active volcano west of the southern Italian port city that forced hundreds of residents to sleep in tents or cars. No injuries and only minor damage was reported following the Monday evening temblor.

The quake was the strongest in recorded history around the Phlegraean Fields, a sprawling area of ancient volcanic centers near the Tyrrhenian Sea in a zone that encompasses western neighborhoods of Naples and its suburbs, said Giuseppe De Natale, a volcanologist of Italy’s INGV National Geophysics and Volcanology Center. During the last major event in 1984, 40,000 residents were evacuated during a period of intense seismic activity as a precaution against a feared eruption that did not occur.

Some 140 inmates at a women's prison in the Pozzuoli suburb were evacuated while officials check the structure for damage. A dozen apartment buildings also were evacuated for structural checks, displacing about 40 families, RAI state TV reported.

Some 150 smaller tremors overnight kept the population on edge. At least 500 people slept in tent cities erected by the civil protection agency, while others stayed in cars. Major traffic jams were reported as people tried to flee the area.

The area around the Phlegraean Fields is both seismically and volcanically active. The surface has been pushed up 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) since 2006, which is higher than prior to the last major event in 1984, but De Natale emphasized it was impossible to predict when an eruption or stronger quake might occur.

At least 500,000 people live in the zone most at risk should the volcano erupt, and the INGV is calling for a governmental plan to ensure that structures can withstand a quake of at least a magnitude 5.0.