Central Italy trembled Wednesday because of the cold and because of fear amid a fresh series of earthquakes. Almost five months since the beginning of a seismic crisis that is literally breaking the region, scientists recorded three tremors stronger than 5 magnitude on the Richter scale — all between the hour of 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. — plus dozens of less intense aftershocks.
The epicenter was north of Abruzzo, where there was one dead, one missing and a drama played out at the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, which was hit by an avalanche. By Friday evening, dozens were feared dead, with as many as 30 people still missing and presumably buried. A snowstorm slowed the relief effort and disrupted communications.
But the earthquake was felt practically everywhere, even in the provinces of Ascoli, Fermo and Rieti, with building collapses, infrastructure disruptions and enormous difficulties in performing damage surveys. The mountain roads are almost all blocked because of the snow, and reaching the most isolated areas is an almost impossible undertaking. The municipalities officially involved are nine: Capitignano, Campotosto, Cagnato Amiterno, Pizzo and Barets in the province of L’Aquila; Borbona, Cittareale and Accumoli in the province of Rieti; with damage recorded also in the Leacho, between Arquata del Tronto, Acquasanta Terme, Montemonaco and Roccafluvione.
The commissioner for reconstruction Vasco Errani ensures crews are working “belly to the ground to secure the people,” but operations were greatly slowed by bad weather.
The earthquake knocked down the bell tower of the Church of Sant’Agostino, in Amatrice, the last tower of Central Italy, which, until Wednesday morning, was considered an augur that rebirth was possible. Now the town is an esplanade of rubble buried by snow. Mayor Sergio Paredes is now in despair: “I wonder what we have done wrong to Christ,” he told reporters.
The new wave of earthquakes arrived amid what weather experts are calling “the biggest snowfall since 1954.” Because the emergency is not so much the earthquake or the new damage so much as “the snow,” says Paredes. “There is urgent need for turbines. The snow ploughs are not enough. We have isolated communities, but we are totally abandoned to ourselves.”
Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti said military engineers stationed at Foggia and Bologna have been mobilized. Mayors from Macerata to Ascoli are calling the army, and all (or most) want an increased presence of soldiers on the streets.
The rest is a long list of inconveniences. Schools are closed almost everywhere. The 12 regional passenger trains were stranded for hours between Civitanova Marche and Albacina. Farmers were incommunicado because the phone lines went haywire, and it’s almost impossible to contact them in the Apennines. In Morrovalle and Pievebovigliana a tent housing the elementary school and cafeteria roof came down under the weight of the snow.
In Gualdo, two stables collapsed at the same time, leaving 100 dead or wounded animals in the rubble. In Sarnano, two workers were rescued after being left for nearly 24 hours blocked by a landslide. In Libertine, Rita Marocchi lives in a trailer now buried by snow: “The weather alert had been given, but the region, province, Curcio and Errata, what did they do? They want to send us away from our land? … We do not want to live in other places if not here.”
Farmers have been suffering for weeks now. The agriculture association Coldiretti says that just 15 percent of the temporary protective structures for livestock have been delivered and that, with regard to the vast amount of snow, it is impossible to ensure the animals are fed.
There are more complaints than can be counted, and, though muted, there are those organizing protest demonstrations. “We will not leave you alone,” former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had said, and the new premier Paolo Gentiloni repeated it. But now that refrain has only brought anger. Those who’ve been evacuated from their homes don’t know when they can come back, and those who have remained are seen as a burden. Just Wednesday the civil defense returned to ask the coastal municipalities to move into hotels.
The durations are getting longer, confusion reigns, and information is scant and contradictory. A host of communities are dissolving, slowly, toward oblivion. This earthquake has struck only poor people and summer homes. There are no postcards here. There’s no L’Aquila city to be reconstructed or factories in Emilia to be restarted. These are the holiday homes of grandparents. The earthquake doesn’t even have a name, just a generic “Central Italy.”