When I arrived in Atripalda, a town of 4,000 almost attached to Avellino, at night, by car, following the roads that were still passable, seven days had passed since the great, tremendous November 23 earthquake, and going there, I thought I was quite prepared by reading the news. I had read and seen a lot thanks to the work of journalists and photo and television reports.
But I was still shocked, because I had suddenly ended up in a war scenario. Women and men like ghosts wandering through the ruins, with dull eyes; but most of all, death—bodies white with lime, coffins, laments. We advanced through the territory over the piles of rubble, now natural checkpoints, map and pencil in hand, worrying we might get lost, as the means of communication were few and unreliable.
A week later, with the shame of the lack of rescue activities, we reported the news of an 80-year-old woman found alive but without hope to survive, and a 10-year-old child who made it. We tried to gather the orphans, to convince the old people to move to hotels. It was a difficult mission, because the old people would rather stay and die where they had been born.
Together with the fear, suffering and pain, as one crossed those mountains and entered those very poor lands, another feeling—rage—was coming to the fore, unstoppable. Rage against those who had destroyed that part of Italy well before the earthquake, that fragile, unknown Italy, devastated by illegal houses raised by building speculation. Together with the dead, the “building materials” for the whole Christian Democratic system also came out of the rubble: mayors, councilors, builders, members of the Mafia, thieves and profiteers. The earthquake had not distracted them even for a moment. In the midst of hell, we could reconstruct the family tree of criminal Christian Democrat speculation.
Our chronicles from the Avellino area did not even need to specify the party to which the mayors belonged: they were all from the same large, voracious Christian Democrat family. An absolute network of power, which was finally overwhelmed by the sea of volunteers, doctors, workers, students and journalists who went to work against political crime, as in an open-air autopsy.
In San Mango sul Calore, a group of young volunteers had to defend themselves from a local doctor who was being protected by shady local figures, including a man who came touting a rifle.
The broken-down rescue network of the acclaimed Zamberletti, denounced by President Pertini ever since the first hours after the tragedy, was a small thing compared to the enormous civil protection network which coalesced out of workers, students, medical personnel, who came from every corner of the country, bringing everything, from generators to turn on the lights in the dark mountains to medicine and tents. Finding shelter in a caravan was a privilege for a few.
It was clear that, after the earthquake itself, the cold and the mud would kill many more. In Luogosano, a small town where, miraculously, no one had died under the rubble, pneumonia was already killing off the old people. In the most affected area, everything was lacking, including food, let alone a tube of toothpaste that would cost 4,000 lire and a pack of spaghetti that went for 1,200. The mayors were very good at hijacking the aid, keeping out the assistance network of the unions and the Communist Party.
Right before our eyes was our beautiful country, with deadly wounds due to misrule and mismanagement by an inept and greedy Christian Democrat political class. Public opinion realized that a radical, profound, long-lasting intervention was needed to prevent such tragedies and heal these lands. But nothing changed. Billions of liras flowed into these areas over the years, at least 60 trillion liras. Only a small part went towards the reconstruction. At that time, we believed that together with the houses, the churches, the bell towers and the town halls, that Italy of misdeeds, corruption, connivance with the Camorra, Mafia, N’drangheta had also collapsed. It had not.
And we realized it some decades later, with Operation Clean Hands. The forty years that have passed since have not been enough to make us all aware. We still haven’t learned the lesson of November 23, 1980.