Italy quake survivors face grim Easter
L’Aquila — Survivors of Italy’s devastating earthquake Saturday began salvaging what they could from their abandoned homes on a mournful Easter weekend as the death toll from the disaster rose to 291.
"I need to get some clothes. I have nothing," said Beniamino Marsili, clad in a grey tracksuit, as nerves frayed during the long wait in the sun for police escorts to the devastated old town of L’Aquila, capital of the central Abruzzo region.
Engineers meanwhile began assessing the damage to the estimated 10,000 buildings hit by Monday’s earthquake, and the European Commission said construction experts would be sent to the region early next week.
"We all need to rebuild our lives," said Vincenzo Rizi, an engineering professor at the university in the medieval city of 70,000 people who was among the people in the queue.
As the newly homeless waited for teams of firefighters to escort them to their damaged homes, fire service cars could be seen coming out laden with black bin bags full of personal belongings.
Strong aftershocks continued to jolt the region, where some 40,000 people have lost their homes.
Local administration chief Massimiliano Cordeschi said 18,000 people have registered for inspections so far.
But some residents were puzzled by the checks, saying that the aftershocks that have continued made it unlikely anyone would move back anytime soon.
"Even if they say I can live in it, I’m not going back," said one man.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised extensive aid to the region and has visited affected areas several times, but residents have alleged inefficiency in the rescue effort.
President Giorgio Napolitano has led allegations that lax standards led to the collapse of many of modern buildings in the disaster in a region known to be vulnerable to earthquakes.
At a funeral for the victims on Friday, Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone told survivors that Easter Sunday would "once again be a rebirth from the rubble for a people who have already suffered so many times."
But at one of the many tent camps in and around L’Aquila, 70-year-old Anna Parisse on Saturday said she was not looking forward to the holiday.
"Unfortunately, we’re going to have to celebrate Easter here. It’s not going to be the same. I want to be at home with my family," she said.
Brother Simon, a Franciscan monk, went from tent to tent giving communion to those too infirm to attend the Easter masses being celebrated in the camp and hearing confessions as part of traditional preparations for the holiday.
"Amid all the suffering, there’s also a discovery of the most essential value for some people. But there are other people who are still too scared, still in shock," said the monk in his brown robe, chalice in hand.
There were also scenes of relative normality after survivors spent a fifth night in the camp. Elderly people sat in the sun, women hung out clothes to dry and children played hide-and-seek and football among the blue tents.
"I don’t know what I’m going to do for Easter. But they’ve given me a lot of chocolate eggs. I’m not going to go to school afterward. It was destroyed," smiled Robert Reyes, a 12-year-old Filipino playing football with friends.
Meanwhile around 50 firemen and rescue workers with sniffer dogs continued to sift through the debris of a collapsed home in L’Aquila in the hope of finding a survivor after first detecting possible signs of life on Friday.
"We have heard signals. The geophone and the sniffer dogs detected something," said fire service spokesman Luca Cari at the site of the search as a crane lifted large pieces of concrete and firemen searched by hand.
At the tent camp, Parisse shook her head in resignation: "I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from this. I don’t know if L’Aquila will ever recover."