At last we drove into the historic centre of Atina, where my family live in the quaint narrow cobblestoned alley of Via Dolabella. As always we were warmly welcomed.
The cousins soon began to tell us of their experiences on the night of the dreadful earthquake. Mario awoke to a feel the bed violently shaking, along with all the other furniture in the house. He roused Mara and hurriedly got dressed. They said it seemed as if the shaking and rumbling was never ending, the quaking just seemed to go on and on. I could see the fear in their eyes. They said they did not know what to do. Many of the buildings in the historic centre of Atina date back many centuries, and are built of rock with no anti-seismic protection, their own house from around 1600. They were afraid to go outside for fear of being hurt by falling masonry, and there are no large open spaces near to their home where they could escape to. Finally, thank goodness, the shaking subsided.
However, the following day (Tuesday) there had been more violent after-shocks, some only slightly weaker than the main one, which were just as frightening. This time Mario, who is a Fireman, was more prepared. He had placed a heavy hammer near the front door, in case they needed to get out and the door should become jammed. They prepared a bag of essential belongings and medication in case they had to vacate their home quickly. They decided to hope for the best and to stay put, nervously listening to the deep rumbling, violent shaking whilst observing the pendant light fittings vigorously oscillating. These ongoing aftershocks continued to traumatise people in this region, and hamper rescue teams in their work. Everyone is very on edge.
This is not our family’s first earthquake experience. In May 1984 there was a strong earthquake in the Val di Comino, with the epicentre near to San Donato, which badly damaged the town and the surrounding towns such as Atina. After this devastating event our family had to live in tents and caravans for several weeks before they could return home. Prior to that there were earthquakes recorded in this immediate area in 1901 and 1915. This area has been ravaged by such earthquakes from time immemorial, in fact Atina was totally destroyed during an quake in 1349.
* photo by david davies
We said our goodbyes to Mario and Mara, and headed off across the Val di Comino to San Donato to visit Antonella with a basket of flowers to try and lift her spirits. She had learned that morning that two of her close student friends were found in the ruins of the student accommodation block in L’Aquila, that collapsed like a pack of cards in the earthquake. They were sisters, Genny and Giusy Antonini, aged 22 and 24, who were studying biotechnology and nursing. Antonella was very upset naturally and said that she wanted to return to L’Aquila for the mass funeral of 205 of then 287 victims to be held there on Good Friday, which had been announced as a national day of mourning for the dead.
Antonella had been in L’Aquila that fateful night as she was due to sit an exam the following morning. She began to recount her experiences of that dreadful night, how everything was shaking and things were falling all around her. Still dressed in her pyjamas she grabbed her phone and decided to try and get out, having to move a heavy wardrobe that had toppled to get out of the door. She said it had been really horrendous, and she had found hundreds of people wandering around L’Aquila in a daze. The shaking had seemed never to stop. As a few hours passed, the early morning light revealed the extent of the devastation. Even now it’s an experience that she feels hasn’t really sunk in. It seems inconceivable. It is unlikely that she will be able to continue her studies in L’Aquila, as yet no one knows what will happen.
Antonella wishes to thank everyone for thinking of her and for their messages of love and support.
We asked Elena what an earthquake sounded it like. She said it was a terrifying thunderous roaring reverberation from deep in the bowels of the earth, a sound quite unlike any other. “It feels as if the mountains are going to crumple on top of you”, she said. The region had experienced a large number of tremors since last October, which seem to have been steadily increasing in strength.
The following day , Thursday 9th April, yet again there were numerous sharp tremors, the most severe registering 5.2 magnitude.
This had been Italy’s worst earthquake for 3 decades. Large areas of L’Aquila now stand in ruins, especially much of the historic centre with edifices that dated back to the 13th century. Many buildings that were supposed to have been built to anti-seismic regulations have collapsed. Many villages surrounding this town also suffered severe damage, one community Onno was totally destroyed.
The death toll now stands at 293, with more than 1500 injured. 28,000 people have been made homeless and have lost everything. Some of the more fortunate have been sent to stay in hotels on the Adriatic coast, however there are 17,000 still living in the hastily erected temporary tent camps, where they have to wait in long queues to receive food and drink, and endure smelly toilets, cold showers, no electricity and icy night time temperatures, rain and hailstorms. In fact some prefer to sleep in cars and also coaches brought in by the local authorities.
Berlusconi has been in the limelight this week, wishing to be seen visiting the disaster area. We have recently been reading some of Beppe Grillo’s satirical blog reports in which he writes about the Italian President, referring to him as “the psychotic dwarf with the tar-smeared hair”. This week during an interview for German TV Berlusconi insensitively remarked: “[The victims] have everything they need. They have medical care, hot food … of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary, but they should see it like a weekend of camping.” He is also reported to have told survivors of the Italian earthquake to lift their spirits by heading for the beach. What a buffoon !!!
There is now to be an investigation into possible criminal blame regarding shoddy building work of San Salvatore, Aquila’s hospital built in 2000 which was supposed to have been a state-of-the art earthquake proof building, and now lies in ruins. It is alleged that sea sand had been used, instead of normal sand mixed with cement (to increase the construction company’s profits). Experts say that the steel reinforcing rods in the concrete structure can become corroded by the salt in the sand with potentially fatal consequences. The construction firm which specialises in building hospitals is Impregilo, which has a monopoly on all major public works in Italy. This company also builds Waste Incinerator Plants and is also implicated with the Camorra in the mismanagement of waste disposal in Naples, which caused last year’s waste crisis, and are in line to get the contract to build the Messina Bridge to link Sicily and Rome, and several new Nuclear Power Stations. Scary or what !!!
This catastrophe has certainly stirred up emotions, however despite Berlusconi’s stupid gaffs, and people having turned up from areas not in the slightest affected by the earthquake demanding free hotel accommodation by the sea, and some civil unrest in the form of looting, in general this Easter it has brought the Italian people closer together in both thought and in prayer.
* photo by david davies (flickr)