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  • Earthquakes Devastate Italy
    Italians try to pick up the pieces after two earthquakes in the northeastern region of the country strike
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Italians have been wracked with sadness and fear as two earthquakes left a path of destruction in northeastern Italy. They are glued to the TV checking in on the residents of the region, most of whom are now living in tents, getting updates on aftershocks, listening to stories of tragedy and survival, and wondering how all this property damage is going to weigh into an already difficult and growing economic crisis.

    Two earthquakes hit the provinces of Mantova, Modena, and Ferrara on May 20 and 29, according to the the Italian news agency AGI. As I write this AGI is reporting that the magnitude and number of aftershocks is finally falling with only six yesterday and the highest having a magnitude of only 2.6. To put the number in perspective, the agency reported 30 aftershocks on May 29 and the quake had a magnitude of 5.3. It killed a total of 19 people.

    The images we here in Italy have been seeing on the news are devastating. There are buildings that were hundreds of years old laying in bits and pieces on the street. People – tired, hungry, and now perhaps poor – in tents not far from the debris. And the stories people keep discussing over coffee and in passing on the street are enough to make you cry.

    One man had just been telling his colleague that he wanted out of a factory job that was going nowhere. He was determined to find something else because he was so unhappy with his work life. The next day, he would die in the factory as the earthquake shook and the building fell upon him. Other stories were tragic but uplifting. There were the firemen who saved a woman who had been trapped for a day under debris. What saved her? A piece of furniture in her kitchen, which protected her from life-threatening injuries.

    Reports about the lost Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, which had been aging for years and now is stuck under piles of garbage and debris and the possibility of having lost balsamic vinegar of Modena have been flying about. Some shoppers are stockpiling these goods because they're concerned the prices will go up even further and they won't be able to afford them. Indeed, after the loss of life and property, people are wondering about how this will factor into the economic crisis hitting all of Europe. As Greece and Spain aim to stay alive, Italy's barely safe itself. Before the earthquake, the news was full of stories about those who were committing suicide because they are unemployed, poverty stricken, and hopeless. Repairing these damaged cities, helping these interrupted businesses, and getting people back to work and school and back into normal homes as opposed to tents costs money, which is something Italy doesn't really have at the moment. What is the country to do?

    Thinking about the loss of life and having to rebuild entire cities, many of which have a history that goes back thousands of years and now has been somewhat lost is too much to bear. It has gotten the Italians to be even more introspective than usual. Many of them are considering what would happen if a quake struck them, especially here where I am in Ischia, a province of Naples that has a history of seismic activity. Ischia was itself a volcano before becoming an island.

    Today's Ischitani – at least those of a certain age – remember the 1980 earthquake that struck Napoli. They all know exactly where they were when the earth began to shake. Many of them say that in the seconds just before the quake, they felt ill and thought they were experiencing some sort of imbalance and then the earth literally moved. Most, rather than taking cover in a doorway or under a table, ran to the nearest exit to get outside. Now, they realize it would have been better to do what they were told and protect their heads from falling debris. They vividly recall sleeping outside for days afterward as they felt aftershocks. Word of any possibility of nearby Vesuvius awaking from its slumber or these other quakes in Italy shifting the earth are among their greatest nightmares. They're not the only ones worrying. An article in Time this week describes the writer's concerns about tremors in Rome, where earthquakes hardly ever a hit and aren't a real threat. While Italians are known to be passionate people who can make the earth move figuratively, they don't want it to move literally.

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for, and you can follow her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.

    Article Published 6/4/2012


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