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Fred Schwerin on: The Earthquake in Italy
Fred Schwerin Q: Would you set the scene for me of the earthquake happening and the "Florida" being pressed into service as part of a program by the Italian government?

FS: Just prior to this particular voyage there had been, I believe in December of in 1908, a devastating earthquake in the Messina area of Sicily, a very very serious earthquake. Many people were left completely homeless--totally destitute. There was an international rescue service mounted to try to offer some relief to these people and in this case in particular to bring these homeless people to America. I mean to a new homeland. As part of that effort, the "Florida" had been commissioned to assist to bring these displaced people from Sicily to Naples, I believe, and from there to New York, which was the central point of immigration into the United States.

Q: Tell me about what the conditions they were traveling must have been like, especially in steerage.

FS: Well, I think that the conditions were difficult. You have families and people who probably didn't know each other at all packed into extremely close quarters, sleeping on bunks, piled up probably to the ceiling. You have people clamoring around tables to take their meals with very little room. People had probably brought their own food. Probably there was a great deal of superstition, I'm sure, as to what you might eat or didn't eat so you tended to bring your own if you had it. I think it was extremely difficult conditions, not at all pleasant.

Q: People are basically carrying whatever they own on their back into this situation, aren't they?

FS: The people on board the "Florida" who were immigrating to the United States had virtually everything and anything they owned with them, and it was very little. It was really only what they could carry on their backs. They might have had a suitcase, but aside from that, I'm not even sure they had a toothbrush.

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