Anger boils among Italy earthquake refugees

10th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

Two months after the devastating earthquake, discontent is starting to spill over as some 60,000 refugees continue to live in overcrowded hotels and tent camps.

L’aquila – Two months after an earthquake devastated L'Aquila in central Italy, resentment is beginning to boil over for the some 58,000 refugees from the disaster as reconstruction work stalls.

Some 600 people, many wearing hard hats or bicycle helmets, crossed police lines to march into L'Aquila in May under the slogan "Let's Take Back Our City," which remains an inaccessible "red zone" too dangerous for habitation.

The protest defied a ban on demonstrations or assembly among the residents of the 180 tent camps dotted around the area.

The directive from civil protection authorities even banned coffee, cola and alcohol as "potentially stimulating substances", press reports said.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged after the demo to empty the tent camps by 15 September, either by securing and certifying people's abandoned homes or by rehousing them.

"So far we've heard a lot of nice words, promises," said Giusti Contino, a 70-year-old retired cook having lunch at a tent camp while teenagers played indoor football in one corner and a TV blared in another. "They've promised roses," he snarled.

L'Aquila remains a picture of devastation – piles of rubble every few hundred metres, imploded buildings, half-crumbled churches – and aftershocks are a near-constant reminder of the quake.

"Discontent is spreading in the unliveable tent camps and the overcrowded hotels (housing earthquake evacuees) on the (Adriatic) coast," read an editorial in the local Il Centro daily. "Sooner or later there's the risk that it will explode uncontrollably," it warned.

"There's a lot of bitterness," said a logistics officer for L'Aquila's fire service, who didn't want to be named.

He said it was unlikely that any L'Aquila residents would be able to return home even by spring 2010, a year after the disaster that claimed 295 lives.

"Almost all of L'Aquila is closed," he said. "It's a red zone because it's dangerous. Lots of houses are intact, but the streets leading to them are dangerous," he explained.

In addition, he said: "Many buildings look intact from the outside but are completely gutted inside."

A shop window in a clothing store in central L'Aquila presented a macabre scene of mannequins left exactly where they fell, legs splayed and wigs detached, when the quake struck at 3:30 am on 6 April.

Only civil protection officers and builders or authorised private contractors are allowed in the city, apart from the occasional team of accredited journalists.

In a surprise announcement three weeks after the earthquake, Berlusconi said this year's Group of Eight summit in July will be held at a military academy just outside L'Aquila to "show solidarity" with the earthquake victims.

The summit was originally to be held on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena, with meetings to take place on a luxury cruise liner.

Berlusconi said staging the meeting at La Maddalena would have cost some EUR 220 million, money that could be better spent on rebuilding the L'Aquila region.

However, Yuri Pittaluga, a civil protection press officer, said the decision to hold the G8 summit at the military academy "has meant major interference" in post-quake reconstruction planning.

The training school of Italy's militarised revenue guard, the Guardia di Finanza, is a sprawl of drab, grey buildings including barracks where the G8 delegations will be billeted. It served as the headquarters for some 1,000 firefighters, Red Cross workers and volunteers and soldiers dealing with the aftermath of the quake.

AFP / Expatica

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