Quake homeless feel forgotten in shadow of G8 summit

10th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Italy's flamboyant billionaire prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, switched the venue for the meeting to the devastated mountain town of L'Aquila in a populist gesture intended to show solidarity with the quake victims.

L'Aquila -- Beaten listless by the heat and boredom of three long months under canvas, the thousands left homeless by the Italian earthquake gazed on bitterly as the G8 summit rolled into their town.

Italy's flamboyant billionaire prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, switched the venue for the meeting to the devastated mountain town of L'Aquila in a populist gesture intended to show solidarity with the quake victims.

But, as officials raced to set up facilities for more than 40 delegations, 3,500 journalists and 15,000 security officers, the families squatting in tent villages dotted around the town found little to cheer.

"The road on which all these world leaders are going to arrive in L'Aquila has been rebuilt but we may still not be able to return home until September or October," said a 36-year-old primary school teacher called Martina.

The earthquake, with a 6.2 magnitude, killed a total of 299 people and left some 70,000 homeless. At least 24,000 of them are still in makeshift camps set up on car parks around the town.

Stefania Pezzopane, president of the L'Aquila region, said the G8 should be a chance to "raise real resources" to rebuild the disaster zone.

"The G8 should not just be a spotlight on frivolity, the menu, the wardrobe of the first ladies. Let it be a real occasion, a concrete opportunity for the revival of the region," she said in a statement.

Pezzopane appealed to the summiteers not to "stay holed up in the impregnable fortress of Coppito, custom-built for you," urging delegates to visit earthquake victims who are sheltering in dozens of tent cities around the region.

"Don't go away without having seen the real destruction, the real suffering etched on the faces" of the evacuees, she said.

"Come and see the anger, the indignation, the fear and the uncertainty of the people who have endured the effects of a natural disaster for months," she added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday toured the shattered mountain village of Onna, where 40 of the 280 residents were killed. Germany is funding restoration of Onna's centuries-old church.

Meanwhile, aftershocks have continued, and many commentators outside Italy have derided Berlusconi's snap decision to move the event.

Some houses and apartment blocks in L'Aquila, a medium-sized regional centre spread loosely across a valley in the spectacular Apennine mountains, lie in ruins, others have been abandoned while safety tests are carried out.

"The damage assessment on our house has still not been done and the nights start getting cold from mid-August. I'm worried," complained Martina, who during term time gave lessons to the children in her tent settlement.

Now the summer school break has begun, but the refugees, far from enjoying what Berlusconi once suggested they should see as a "camping holiday" are bored and increasingly depressed by their fate.

"Time just seems to be standing still. There's nowhere to go, apart from the supermarket," said retired firefighter Vittorio Persichetti.

"I had an active life. I was part of a veteran firemen's association. My wife wasn't doing so well, and now she's more depressed and takes pills.

"I don't think the G8 will bring anything to us, that anything will trickle down," he complained, sitting in a Spartan blue tarpaulin shelter decorated with two crucifixes and a lottery ticket.

In the camps, where temperatures regularly reach 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) under the canvas despite air conditioning, children are running out of control and family life is suffering from the lack of privacy, Martina said.

"When Berlusconi announced that the G8 would be transferred from Sardinia to L'Aquila, we thought it was a good thing. Some roads were resurfaced, and the airport too. But no-one comes to see us here," she sighed.

"We're not sponsored, we mustn’t be sufficiently telegenic," she said, in a jab at the firms who scrambled to make Berlusconi's summit plan feasible and whose logos are plastered on the shiny signs dotting the G8 "media village."

AFP/Expatica

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