April 6, 2012By Sergei Tseytlin
ROME – Three years on, the effects of a deadly earthquake which hit Abruzzo are still keenly felt -- Some are still living in temporary accommodation, dangerous areas remain sealed off. Drugs and alcohol abuse have risen amongst the population.
In 2009 the region of Abruzzo, and its capital city of L’Aquila in particular, was struck by a devastating earthquake (5.8 on the Richter scale) that left 309 people dead, over 1,500 injured, over 65,000 homeless and caused roughly 10 billion euros worth of damage.
It was the biggest earthquake to hit Italy since the 1980 Irpinia tragedy, which paralyzed the southern regions of Campania and Basilicata, taking the lives of 2,914 people. Although the government provided the Abruzzesi with sufficient housing and material compensation, the community has grown rather despondent. According to statistics, cases of drug and alcohol abuse have increased and L’Aquila’s peripheral municipalities have seen a drastic rise in the deaths of elderly people.
In the historical center of the city there are still many “red zones” that are inaccessible to the public because the buildings there are likely to collapse. Thousands of people cannot walk through the streets where they were born, where they grew up and where they lived up to April 6, 2009. They cannot even enter to collect their belongings. The only possessions they managed to take with them are their memories.
Unlike the reconstruction of the Irpinia area, which turned into the “Mani sul terremoto” (Hands on the earthquake) scandal with major politicians charged with misappropriating more than 50 per cent of the destined funds and the President of the Campania Region even condemned to two and a half years in prison, the L’Aquila reconstruction is being carried out with exigent monitoring procedures. According to an official report prepared by the Ministry of Territorial Cohesion, so far approximately 10.6 billion euros (10.5 of which is public money) have been allotted to post-earthquake interventions, of which 2.9 billion were used immediately for emergency purposes, and the remaining 7.7 billion will be employed (2 billion already transferred) for the gradual reconstruction of public and private buildings and development projects.
Out of the 67,459 people left homeless on the day of the earthquake 33,787 have been able to return to their homes, 21,807 are living in sophisticated, Japanese-designed anti-seismic buildings built by the State, 11,482 opted for financial compensation and 383 are staying in temporary residences.
A number of foreign countries have been very helpful, sending sizeable donations for the restoration of churches and important palaces: Russia pledged 7.2 million euros, Germany 3.5, both France and Canada 3.25, a total of 2.5 million came from five other countries and US President Barack Obama promised to give grants to university students. It has been estimated that only 38 per cent of the wreckage has been removed so far and the local authorities say that it will take about fifteen years to reconstruct everything and return the population to a more or less stable – socially and psychologically – way of life.
In the last three years famous Italian singers, actors and athletes have been visiting the area regularly, trying to do everything in their power to revive the general spirit of the population. Politicians from all parties and movements have come to show their unwavering sympathy and support. Vatican-nominated bishop/entrepreneur Monsignor D’Ercole brought L’Aquila 13 million euros from the Caritas Organization. In fact, six churches have already been restored and are now functioning to serve the local worshippers.
This year the anniversary of the L’Aquila earthquake falls on Good Friday. A torchlight procession will commemorate the crucifixion of Christ and the names of the people who perished in the catastrophe will be read out loud. It is a sad day. But deep down in their hearts the Aquilani, just like all Italians, know that every devastating event creates the ground for a new beginning, a new life, for it is this continual rebirth that marks the foundation of Italy’s almost three-thousand-year-old civilization.