Chaos reigns in Italy as efforts continue to find survivors

Amatrice and Pescara del Tronto feel brunt as another natural disaster hits central Italy


Italy was struck again yesterday by one of those periodic natural disasters which seem to afflict the country when at least 120 people were killed by a massive earthquake which ripped through central regions of Lazio, Umbria, Abruzzo and Le Marche in the early hours of the morning.

Just seven years after the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake which claimed more than 300 lives, the inherent seismic instability of central Italy has claimed more victims.

The most potent symbol of this latest disaster is the village of Amatrice, until yesterday best known to the world as the home of that very Roman dish, pasta all’amatriciana. Just 50km north of L’Aquila, Amatrice will now be known as the village which paid the heaviest price in human lives of this disaster. By yesterday evening, at least half of the 120 victims died in Amatrice, a town of just 2,600 inhabitants.

That high number of victims may be related to the fact that a third of the village’s population is over 65 years of age. It could be that, when the quake struck yesterday morning, some of the inhabitants were simply not able to move fast enough to get out of the way. Walking around the village, it is clear that some people used sheets to escape from their houses – not something everyone is capable of.

Rescue operation

“The rescue operation here is very strong on solidarity . . . but it is a bit chaotic. I mean I have been waiting here seven hours with my lorry to take this digger into the town,” says Stefano.

As you walk into the town itself, you meet a stream of rescue workers, some of whom have been digging, at first with their bare hands, all night long. They and the teams of medical doctors are exhausted. I ask one doctor about the injured found under the rubble.

He looks at me wearily and says: “No injuries – the only people we have pulled out today were dead.”

We stop for a moment in the Don Minozzi Benedictine convent in the centre of the village. An official from the Protezione Civile tells us to move on: three nuns and four visitors have already been killed by the convent’s partial collapse, he says. This is not a safe place. When we look up at the cracks in the convent walls, we see he has a point.

The convent also has a positive tale to tell. One Albanian nun managed to survive the quake by using the age-old trick of hiding below her heavy convent bed.

This was a trick also used by a grandmother in Pescara del Tronto. When the earthquake struck, she woke up her two grandchildren and made them hide with her beneath her old-fashioned bed. All three lived to tell the tale.

In the chaos of the rescue effort in Amatrice, the day follows a strange pattern of lull and storm. For much of the time, diggers are working away, lorries are carting away rubble and dust is blowing everywhere in a mad, frenzied cacophony.

Frantic digging

In the centre of the village yesterday evening, we watch some particularly frantic digging. The rescue workers tell us that they believe there may be an 11-year-old boy alive beneath the rubble of another destroyed house.

A call from the child’s mobile phone has apparently been registered. At a certain moment all goes quiet. The next thing we see is a small body bag being carried away. There are few happy endings in Amatrice today.