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Reportage. An entire Italian village has been shut down for at least the next two months.

Ussita mayor: Everyone must leave

Ussita is literally gone. Mayor Marco Rinaldi delivered that announcement Friday afternoon at an assembly meeting with the 400 residents of the small town of Macerata. The whole zone has been labeled “red,” including the suburbs, meaning everyone has to leave.

Firefighters have been evaluating the safety of each house over the weekend. They will advise those citizens who cannot stay there and have to move elsewhere, either with friends or relatives if they have the chance. Otherwise they will be placed in hotels on the Adriatic coast.

The decision is unprecedented: For at least the next two months, Ussita will be a ghost town, populated only by day by technicians and workers securing the buildings. There were not too many structural failures after Wednesday’s double earthquake, but the still ongoing aftershocks are very worrying and so it was decided to move the whole town away while the construction sites remain open.

Around 20 municipalities were affected by the earthquake in the province of Macerata, for a total of over 4,000 displaced residents. There were no casualties and few suffered minor injuries, but there have been several damages to properties, including gutted houses, demolished churches and towers and damaged public buildings.

The response has been similar to the one two months ago in Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata and the various villages of the Tronto valley, but there is a key difference: With winter coming, there’s no tent city. Besides, it is not feasible to set up these kind of accommodations in a mountain region. So the municipalities and Civil Protection are working tirelessly to host the displaced in the hotels available in the Marche resort towns. Up to last night, 1,600 people had already checked in, and Federalberghi (the hotel business association) declared the number is “growing steadily.”

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised that everything will be rebuilt as soon as possible, although it remains very likely that in the coming months, wooden provisional houses will be put up. The temporary housing in the provinces of Ascoli and Rieti will be ready in the first months of the New Year, and there are hopes to build the ones in Macerata at the same time.

Initially, it was mentioned that everything would be ready in April, but in a recent meeting between the mayors, civil protection and other officials it was announced that the temporary housing may be completed before that, perhaps as early as February. Commissioner Vasco Errani, with the usual tone of those who do not want to promise anything, merely repeated that everything will be done as quickly as possible.

Since last Wednesday, there have been more than 700 earthquake replicas, some of which exceeded four on the Richter scale and were felt at a distance of hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter. It is hard to fall asleep at night near the Appennini region, so great is the fear of falling back into a nightmare. Experts say that there will be tremors for several months, and it is hard to resign oneself to this fact: The earthquake victims know this and now can barely face their situation with humor, smiling when they watch the TV images in Rome, where lamp fixtures shook as though the epicenter were there. For them, the future remains quite uncertain.

Reconstruction will be long and complex. The earthquake decree approved by the cabinet just two weeks ago has allocated €300 million for the areas affected on Aug. 24. While for this second round, €40 million were approved right away, but it is assumed that (many) others will be added in the coming weeks. For that, Renzi is trying to raise his voice in Europe, asking that the money that will be used for reconstruction will be left outside the known budgetary constraints.

The response of the European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt wasn’t promising: “Every cost consistent with the applicable criteria will be assessed if and when we receive full details from the Italian authorities.”

Of course, for the prime minister the issue is not only the safety of the territory, but also the safety of the constitutional referendum on Dec. 4. In this sense, the management of an emergency, such as the one that has been going on for months in central Italy, can be a godsend or a total disaster for his popularity. These details need to be taken into account, because in the end, we are in the election campaign.

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