Reportage. Between blizzards, flooding and another earthquake, a central Italy is on its knees.

Over 100,000 without power as winter death toll grows

More than 100,000 families are living without power in about 120 municipalities of Abruzzo, Italy, which was already devastated by earthquakes that have tormented the region so far this year. On top of it, the region is caught in the grip of a cold winter with snowfall from the mountains to the coastal areas reaching up to 10 feet in some parts.

Freezing temperatures, up to -5 degrees Fahrenheit in L’Aquila province, have frozen lakes. Many small villages are isolated. Most inhabitants are elderly and suffering brutal conditions: no electricity, no heating, no water, and in some cases they depend from the fire department helicopters and the relay of the police to get food and medicine.

Thousands are stranded in their homes, behind white walls of snow. Even stables have collapsed. On Wednesday in Penne, cattle were crushed under falling debris. Roofs everywhere have caved in, and landslides abound. Schools and public offices are closed, by order of the mayors. Highways and sections of state roads are sometimes off limits, by decision of the prefects. Public transportation has broken down: Almost all bus routes are suspended and trains are canceled.

The Pescara and the Saline rivers flooded their banks, causing massive damage. The Civil Protection is on the highest alert; in some areas, like in Teramo, emergency activities were requested, with the Army’s help. Power outages have been going on intermittently for days.

The latest bulletin Wednesday indicated “about 60,000 customers with service outages in 40 municipalities of the Teramo province; 13,000 in 32 towns in the Pescara province and 27,000 customers in 50 municipalities in the Chieti province.” Hundreds of poles are battered and dilapidated, collapsed, slumped, bent on themselves in the countryside, or laying across the highway; kilometers of cables are cut, thrown to the ground by broken trees. Tens of thousands of failures continue to be reported daily, with great difficulty, by the people who are struggling to make themselves heard. The Terna high voltage network and the E-Distribution medium voltage network are haywire. All companies are being blamed.

“Unfortunately, we feel a very strong feeling of deja vu, a revival of some unpleasant moments experienced in March 2015, when after a three-day weather emergency, 120,000 Enel [power company] customers, spread across more than 200 municipalities, suffered power outages for more than 24 hours (in 30% of the cases, the outage lasted several days),” Regional Minister for Civil Defence Mario Mazzocca said in a statement. “On that occasion, in addition to the maximum disruption encountered, Enel was forced to compensate 120,000 customers for a total amount of €26 million. Enel must maintain the commitments it made back then: make a serious investment in the extraordinary maintenance of the electric infrastructure network. This cannot be delayed, this is aggravating this emergency, adding yet another burden on the community.”

Terna is also in the crosshairs. Maurizio Acerbo of the PRC wrote, “Let us remember that it is an essential network, an infrastructure equivalent to hospitals. It should always work. In Canada, where wind, snow and low temperatures are daily occurrences, month-long outages do not occur. … The privatization of the national power grid, which today is partly owned by investment funds like Blackrock or Chinese companies, was a shame requested by the center-left.

“Obviously, a corporation only thinks about its own profits, which are not in jeopardy because we cannot turn to other providers. Let us remember that in Abruzzo, in addition to the highly contested Villanova-Gissi power line, against which there was a long battle, they want to build an extension, the Gissi-Foggia power line, and they are building a cable from Montenegro. The overall cost of more than €1 billion will end up on our bills. All funds for the extraordinary and ordinary maintenance were taken away. And now everything has become #emergenzaabruzzo.”

The expert Antonio Di Pasquale, who has spent years engaged in the defense of the territory from “unnecessary power lines,” explains: “The reimbursements and damages have not and cannot be a burden on the community in any way, because they have been caused by inexperience, negligence and carelessness in the management of the service, aggravated by the use of public resources to build new plants, in violation of the law, forgetting the existing primary infrastructure which is key to ensure the continuity of service.” This affair also resulted in a query by 5 Star Movement to Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

“It is a complicated picture,” according to the head of Civil Protection, Fabrizio Curcio, because Wednesday the bad weather emergency was compounded by the earthquake. So small hamlets and centers in Aquila, Teramo and Chieti provinces are isolated. The storm is raging, relentless — and the forecast for the next few days isn’t promising — and the dramas multiply. Rescuers are searching for a man swept away by an avalanche in Ortolano. At Castel Castagna, however, the body of an 83-year-old man was recovered from the rubble of a house.

In recent days in Montazzoli, a village in Chieti province, an 85-year-old woman was killed by the cold. She only had a fireplace at home, while outside there were more than three feet of snow and the thermometer was below freezing — as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit — for too many days. Her nephew found her, but she was already in desperate conditions and unconscious. He immediately called 118 and rescuers arrived by helicopter ambulance. She passed away in the hospital due to hypothermia.

Nicola Naccarella, a 55-year-old bartender in Guardiagrele, was buried by the storm. He had left home on Jan. 5 to go to a shed on his farm to feed the animals. Since that moment, he was untraceable. The body resurfaced on Jan. 14 from under a pile of snow.

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