On December 28th, 1908 Messina, a city in the south of Italy on Sicily experienced a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. The city was almost completely destroyed. Between 75,000 and 200,000 lives were lost. The earthquake almost levelled Messina with at least 91% of the structures destroyed or irreparably damaged. It was the most destructive earthquake to every strike Europe. The ground shook for 30 to 40 seconds with widespread damage that went out for 186 miles from the center.
It struck at 5:20 am in the morning while most people were sleeping and were buried alive in their beds. Many would die from their injuries. The earthquake produced a tsunami that was 39 feet high in three waves that struct nearby coasts.
News of the earthquake reached America overnight and relief efforts were or begun immediately. The Italian population in America led the efforts and urged a response from our government for assistance. In response, the President asked Admiral Sperry to send ships to the earthquake damage city and render assistance. The fleet was just getting through the Suez Canal and a relief effort was formulated.
Admiral Sperry did what he could do. He mustered all available food and medical supplies and loaded them on the supply ship Culgoa and took the Flagship Connecticut to Messina with all available doctors and medical support personnel that could be spared. The above card shows one of the British relief ships with the steamer from the Connecticut approaching. Unfortunately, the efforts of the fleet were not received well. The Italian government decided to treat the gesture as an insult. The Connecticut went to Naples to express the Nations good intentions but was rebuffed and continued on with the itinerary of the cruise.