Friday 30 September 2016

Don't forget about us, plead Italy's quake-hit villages

Nick Squires, Accumoli

Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30

Firefighters recover a crucifix from a damaged church in the village of Rio, about 10km from the worst-hit town of Amatrice
Firefighters recover a crucifix from a damaged church in the village of Rio, about 10km from the worst-hit town of Amatrice

They call it 'Il Cuore Verde d'Italia' - the Green Heart of Italy, a vast triangle of mountains, forests and medieval stone villages right in the middle of the country.

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But the devastating earthquake that hit this picturesque region last week, claiming 290 lives, has led local people to fear that their way of life in the hill-top towns could be gone for ever.

Bishop Giovanni D'Ercole celebrates Mass in a tent with a cross made from ladders and firefighter helmets at a camp for earthquake survivors in Arquata Del Tronto
Bishop Giovanni D'Ercole celebrates Mass in a tent with a cross made from ladders and firefighter helmets at a camp for earthquake survivors in Arquata Del Tronto

They doubt whether the Italian state will have the money and determination to rebuild their hamlets and villages and fear that instead the settlements will be abandoned to be slowly swallowed up by the forest.

Less than 1pc cent of homes in Italy have insurance to protect against earthquakes - compared to around 20pc in quake-prone Japan - so most families will struggle to rebuild their homes without outside help.

"This is a very small village and I fear it will be left to die. We have nothing now. We have no future," said Monica Valle (49), who sat on a plastic chair outside the remains of her house in the hamlet of Fonte del Campo, which sits in the valley beneath Accumoli, one of the villages worst hit by the quake.

"This is not a touristy place, it's not Assisi," she said, referring to the medieval town in neighbouring Umbria which was meticulously restored after an earthquake struck it in 1997. Like many families in the quake zone, Mrs Valle has moved into one of the tents set up by the emergency services. "I'm afraid we could be living here a long time," she said.

A spectre hangs over the locals who have lost their homes and are now living in tent villages - the fate of the nearby city of L'Aquila, where 309 people died after a powerful earthquake struck in 2009.

Despite grandiose promises to rebuild made by Silvio Berlusconi, the then prime minister, much of the city still resembles a construction site, with buildings covered by scaffolding and propped up by girders. About 8,000 of its residents are still living in temporary accommodation.

"After seven years, L'Aquila remains an open wound," said Stefano Petrucci, the mayor of Accumoli. "What's going to happen to us?"

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised that, this time around, rebuilding will be swift, devoid of corruption and amply funded.

But his government faces immense challenges. Dozens of villages were hit and the area's narrow, twisting roads make access hard for heavy machinery.

Italy is also struggling under a mountain of debt.

Medieval churches, towers and convents have been badly damaged, as well as Renaissance frescoes.

Much of Amatrice, where more than 200 of the quake victims died, has been reduced to rubble. Voted one of Italy's most beautiful villages, it is famous as the birthplace of the dish spaghetti all'amatriciana.

Some locals remain optimistic. Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, said: "I am convinced that Amatrice will rise again. We owe it to the people who died here."

Telegraph.co.uk

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