April 12, 2009
Posted: 2042 GMT


I have had the good fortune of living in Rome, Italy in my past lives. For a semester as a college junior in 2006, and then last year immediately following my graduation from college. And now that the week has passed, and the temporal vapors have settled and lifted, and the dead have begun to be mourned, I can finally report back what I have heard and seen.

First, it’s important to note a few things: L’Aquila is the center of the region of Abruzzo with a population of more than 70,000, so will naturally attract most of the media’s interest. As well it should. Its infrastructure has been devastated, its people frightened, killed and ruined. As one friend I spoke to, who lives in the region said, “it simply doesn't exist anymore.”

But the whole of Abruzzo, with its population of more than a million, has suffered too, with many towns being leveled. My friend, whose brother by the way lost a home in L’Aquila, put it bluntly: “We're scared, we don't know if our houses are safe or not and we don't feel comfortable. There have been many earthquakes after the big one and they brought more troubles.” She told me this as she prepared for a night of sleep under her house beams. This to provide what protection she could get in case her house came tumbling down.

And amongst those towns that still remain standing—albeit somewhat reluctantly and uncertainly– are families, some of which have roots in the area stretching back centuries. They’re unwilling to vacate the tenuously erect infrastructure that surrounds them. They remain clinging to the only lives they know. Lives that are on the verge of collapsing, literally. “Thousands of people are still living there,” my friend said. “They don't want to move, since they still want to stay in their town, close to their community.”

Italy is not accustomed to such national crises or disasters, but the country has rallied. A friend in Rome told me that there has been an overwhelming outpouring of aid. People, even in these tough economic times, are donating money in hopes of helping out. Another friend in Rome, a journalist, told me he had heard over 170 hotels in Abruzzo alone were offering free accommodation to those affected by the earthquake. It’s been proposed politicians give their April wages away and that the superenalotto, the countries biggest lottery drawing, be given to recovery efforts.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Giorgio Napolitano by all acounts have been copascetic in their leadership. Regardless, some journalists in Italy say Italians don’t often look to their politicians for strength. Berlusconi especially, a media mogul and a businessman, with a knack for incendiary speech who has held his current post three different times in the last 15 years, has been criticized for getting by more on his familiarity than anything else.

So it is the communal bonds that will most likely save these leveled towns now, as Italians look to each other to recover. And they will. This is an ancient culture that has withstood plenty. And maybe fewer churches will stand, and fewer ancient buildings too, and they will be replaced by uglier, surely less beautiful buildings, but they will be rebuilt, slowly and through time.

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Filed under: Italy Earthquake

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Fawad Ali   April 13th, 2009 6:28 am ET

It’s sad......but it's also incredible to see how the people with great courage are facing aftermaths. I also have heard these stories, from people I know were living in areas affected by the earthquake in Iran and Pakistan, a few years ago.

Hetti   April 14th, 2009 8:37 am ET

What really angers me is the fact that Mr. Bertolaso, who holds a bachelor's degree in medicine, is also Italy Secretary of Homeland Security. Otherwise said, he has zero knowledge of anything related to geology or engineering. A few weeks before the disaster (that was in March), he labeled Mr. Giampaolo Giuliani as ignorant because he tried to warn them about the fact that a catastrophic earthquake would hit the Abruzzo region. Giuliani does not hold a bachelor's degree (ALL of the Italian media and even made sure to underline that or put it in double quotes) BUT holds another title, unspecified by the media, and is currently working at Gran Sasso Natl. Lab in L'Aquila. Anyways, according to Giuliani's resume, he has indisputably more knowledge about the geology of the Abruzzo region compared to Bertolaso, who should work as a practitioner in a hospital not as Secretary of our Homeland Security (I'm Italian, btw). Giuliani was even denounced by Bertolaso and now, according to my lastest news, is facing jail time for unnecessary warning. According to his critics, earthquakes cannot be foreseen. Sure that is true, because unless you have a crystal ball or the gift of divination, you cannot pinpoint the exact location and date of when and where it will happen. Plus, the Abruzzo region is prone to earth shakes, anyways. However, his critics (willingly or purely by chance?) forget that Giuliani based his conclusions on scientific observations: an abnormal quantity of radon gas was escaping from the cracks of the Earth (common sign before an earthquake) and very similar data was shown (at the same time) on the computer screens of Turkey along the North Anatolian Fault. In brief, I believe that Bertolaso, due to his arrogance (so tipical of our Italian political class) and most importantly LACK OF KNOWLEDGE in the field, was completely irresponsable and should be, at least, kicked out from a position that he undeservedly holds. Giuliani might have been wrong, but Bertolaso should have taken precautions. It is sad that Italian media are not talking about this story anymore... it's so unfair to those innocent people that lost their lives in a catastrophe that, I am sure, could not have been completely, but at least, it could have been partly, avoided. Those innocents just did not have a chance 🙁

papagena87   April 15th, 2009 9:43 pm ET

earthquakes can be foreseen and all the experts agree.
giuliani's mistake was to foresee the day and the place of the disaster. and he was wrong.
what if Bertolaso had heard Giuliani's advices? he would make us all move to l'Aquila maybe? (Giuliani foresaw a huge earthquake in Sulmona, 60km far from l'Aquila).
and how about now? how about all the allarms that we're listening to? according to Giuliani there should be a very big earthquake in sulmona between yesterday and tomorrow, i really hope he's wrong.

I think it is a big mistake to preannounce huge disasters just after the Aquila's earthquake, I mean it's a mistake if his theories don't have a scientific ground. We are impressed by what happened in our main city, there's a lot of tension and we are scared of our own homes. All these allarms don't help us to come back to normal life.
Not foresee but prevent...that's what we need.

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