Saturday 26 May 2018

'Buildings are literally collapsing around you': Irishman has lucky escape from Italy earthquake

Rescuers work on a collapsed building following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
Rescuers work on a collapsed building following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

Tomás Heneghan

An Irish man who was caught up in an earthquake in Italy earlier this week has described the area as “devastated” following the disaster.

Dublin man Marco Gentile, whose father was originally from Italy, was staying in the town of Amatrice with his family at the time of the quake.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline on Thursday afternoon Mr Gentile said he was “extraordinarily lucky” to escape unharmed during Wednesday morning’s shock earthquake.

He told the show his father was from a village close to Amatrice and he had been visiting the area regularly since he was a child.

“My father’s actually from that area. We’re from a smaller village, literally just 3km away, which in earthquake terms is pretty much on top of the site,” he told the show.

He explained: “We woke up at 3:30 or 3:45 in the morning, with the house literally shaking from left to right. It was the most extraordinary experience you can imagine.

“My wife was amazing. She just literally grabbed our two sons – a six-year-old and a four-year-old - and just no socks or shoes or anything, just grabs and runs down two flights of stairs, out the back door and across to the local field where everybody else from the village was going.

“We were extraordinarily lucky. The houses have been devastated in our village. Most of them haven’t actually collapsed completely but they’re devastated.

“They’ll have to be torn down, but we were so lucky that everybody in our particular village walked out almost without a scratch.”

He described Amatrice before this week’s disaster as a “beautiful, beautiful town”.

He explained: “Most of the people there, a lot of the people there, would have work in Rome and all that kind of stuff but Rome is only a two hour drive away.

“And so it’s one of these areas where Amatrice and its 45 villages around it would only have a population of about 2,500 during the year as normal, but come the summer time Rome obviously gets really warm and everybody comes up for the summer, it goes up to 25,000 [to] 30,000 people.”

Mr Gentile said one of the only surviving buildings he could see was a clock tower in the town which carried a plaque with the names of fallen World War soldiers, including his uncle.

He said: “It’s just a beautiful country place and to see it devastated to the point where the place is in ruins. You can see the tower in the middle still standing.

“Amazingly it’s still standing because not many years ago they actually did a reconstruction on that and they reinforced it. It was getting old and now you look at Amatrice and it’s almost the only thing standing. It’s incredible to see that much devastation.”

He also described the immediate response of his family when the earthquake began early on Wednesday morning.

“You’re fast asleep. You’re in as deep a sleep as it gets. By the time your brain even switches on to what’s going on and then it’s literally like all of your senses are being bombarded.

“The whole house is shaking, I never felt anything like it. It’s just an extraordinary sensation. The buildings are literally collapsing around you.

“My bedside locker got demolished by a block of stone off the back wall of my bedroom. A couple of inches further over and it would have been worse. The house was literally crumbling as we were talking.

“My six-year-old, he understands what’s going on and he woke up to the rumble of it and just pulled the blanket over himself and started screaming because obviously he didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

He added: “We knew all the people in Amatrice personally. It’s total devastation on a physical and a personal level. It’s extraordinary and it’s really quite emotional.”

He also praised the response of Italian emergency services, saying: “I have to say, it’s quite extraordinary. Within hours there was literally miles of emergency vehicles.

“It just shows you when these things happen Italy really does come together, they will come from near and far.”

Speaking to the show’s host, Joe Duffy, Mr Gentile explained: “I was looking around it and I kind of went ‘this is what war zones look like’. The only difference is that the emergency vehicles are a different colour.”

“I’ll be coming back to Ireland soon…We’ll just stay up in a hotel for a few days. I’ll obviously want to go back to Amatrice and see. For starters I want to donate blood and see if there’s anything I can do. Also I want to make sure that all of my personal relations are okay.

“After that all I can do is fly home and then maybe go back in a month’s time and see what we can do with the houses.”

“Obviously we’re so upset because of the beauty that’s been taken away but I mean what can you for the lives that are lost? All you can do is be grateful for the ones that weren’t and be positive.

“The real hope is that the government do get together and get these people to rebuild it because if that’s not done, these villages just die off.”

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