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Italy earthquake. As homeless earthquake victims await a return to normalcy, the tent city is filled with the fear of an uncertain future and the lack of answers.

Caught between pride of home and desire to leave

Everybody is exhausted. Two weeks after the earthquake that wiped out Amatrice, Arquata del Tronto, Accumoli and other villages, those staying in the tent city say they can’t stand it anymore. Deep, dark circles loom in each face: The seismic tremors have not stopped, the earth trembles constantly and it is hard to sleep at night. “We are safe under the blue tents,” they all say.

Everything is moving, everything is light, nothing can come crashing down like the stone houses in the small towns, but the reality of the facts is not enough to calm the nerves of those who woke up at 3:36 a.m. on Aug. 24 to see their lives crumble.

In the field of Grisciano, a small suburb of Accumoli, everyone is trying to figure out when the transition period in the tents will end. People lined up for lunch have the weary look of people who just want to go home, even if their houses are gone. Someone says he’s gotten offers from friends and relatives to move away, at least temporarily, but in the end pride will prevail. Those who had a chance have already gone elsewhere; those who did not feel like leaving have stayed, waiting for a breakthrough that now seems like a utopia. The elderly do not want to move away from their homes: They were not just stone buildings, but symbols of a lifetime of sacrifice.

More frightening are those who wander the streets, looking for something to steal from the abandoned houses, in spite of the surveillance. Meanwhile, in Grisciano, children played ball near a bar closed off by firefighters’ white and red tape, among Red Cross and civil protection volunteers, also waiting for a hot meal.

The town is dominated by a heap of rubble. The landscape is a recognition of pain, amid the dust and debris. A few men in uniform are watching to prevent looters. Some journalists are looking for the best image to broadcast on the afternoon programs, in the pervasive nothingness of a town that no longer exists and will never be the same again.

In Pescara del Tronto, the camp is heavily guarded. The secretary sends visitors to the Combined Operational Center, a few hundred meters away from the tents. It is here that all organizational aspects of post-earthquake provisional life are decided; although, as an official civil protection employee said, “we are not officially active yet.”

They typically expect directions from above, but the rumors are positive: In the coming hours, the resettlement of the displaced people will be decided. The civil protection employee explains further: “Of course we will try to meet the needs of the locals. We are here for them and will do everything to help them in the best way.”

However, it is impossible to reach the town. Soldiers block the way. And it is not possible to reach Capodacqua, a small village in the Piceno. Arquata del Tronto, however, which until a few days ago was a red zone, is now open. The police set up a mobile station in a hairpin higher on the road, toward Vettore, in the village of Piedilama, where a roadblock prevents access by unauthorized people.

Along the way, the Arquata cemetery is open: Here the niches have withstood the shock. There is only some rubble on the ground and a silence broken only occasionally by the wind, which is becoming unwelcome. The cold and rain are starting to be a problem. Daytime temperatures hover between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius; at night, it falls dangerously below 10.

Above the tent city, in Borgo di Arquata, a coffee shop reopened. The owner is from Rome. He moved here a few years ago “looking for a bit of peace.” He closed the doors for a week after the quake, “then I came back, on one hand, to offer people a place to go and on the other hand, because I too have bills to pay.”

He is thinking of leaving, moving back to the city and changing his life again. Meanwhile, he serves coffee and bianchini, exchanging small talk with those who sit down at the tables. “I had checks done,” he says. “One of my friends has a construction company and he took care of it.” There are no visible cracks inside, while the rubble was piled up outside in the corners. Those who live in the tents do not like to talk about it, and when the rain begins to pour down, everyone goes back inside. “At least the rain does not get to us here.”

The houses that can be seen from the road are crisscrossed by very deep cracks. It is not safe to go in, but it seems some people go there to sleep at night, or during the day, they enter in a hurry to pick up some useful things to simulate a hopelessly lost normality.

Faete is a hamlet nestled among the trees. You can get there after a couple of kilometers of curves and climbs from the Trisungo junction, the “business district” of Arquata that remained almost intact. According to the census, here lived 76 inhabitants, but there is nobody left. The only noises are animal clucks coming from a henhouse in the distance, while the stone and sand buildings are gutted, battered by the brutal force of nature.

From the curve, you can see the old town of Arquata: the fortress still standing, hovering above the empty, wide-open houses, the blue expanse of the tents below. A ghost town. On the walls, however, the posters remind us that until a few days ago, there was life, including a concert and an evening show staged during the summer season.

The last tent city before Ascoli Piceno was set in Acquasanta Terme in a large parking lot. Here, the number of displaced people varies from day to day: One night, 120 sleep there. The next evening there are only 75. “Many houses in the village are viable,” explains field coordinator Emanuele Rosati, “but the people come here anyway, because they are too scared.” The psychological support facility is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and it is always crowded.

“There is a lot of anxiety,” concludes Rosati. “But it is normal in these conditions.” Meanwhile, a group of puppeteers entertains 20 children, and at the tent used as a recreation center, there is also a specially trained wolf dog. A boy goes around enrolling people for a briscola tournament scheduled for Saturday evening.

A few meters away, the tarpaulin of the Brigades of Active Solidarity stock up food and other basic necessities. There is a lot to do. A lot of material has been collected, and they need to organize themselves better for the upcoming weeks, when — as many fear — the focus on these places will go down and, consequently, donations will drop.

Everyone wants to get out, one way or another, but at the same time, they do not want to leave the places where they have lived all their lives. It is expected, and hoped, that someone will devise an acceptable solution, even if there is no news from national institutions about any future plan. It feels like time isn’t moving, and yet three weeks have passed since the disaster.