On May 20th at 4 AM a 6.0 magnitude earthquake shook Emilia Romagna, Italy just north of Bologna. Italy has a long history of earthquakes in many zones, but this area had been deemed to be of low seismic activity. There were 7 deaths reported, 6,000 homeless and many historic buildings were destroyed or badly damaged. Nine days later on May 29th an equally strong quake awoke the already terrified inhabitants. In between numerous aftershocks continued to occur causing further damage and anxiety in this prosperous farmland called “The Breadbasket of Italy.” The second quake caused an additional 10 fatalities, hundreds of injuries and an estimated 15,000 displaced persons have been reported by Protezione Civile authorities.
My friend Tina Carrari, Italian-American from California who has ‘re-immigrated’ back to Tuscany, has been collecting donations from members of the two international women’s groups we belong to as well as generous residents of Fiesole and Florence. Yesterday, Tina, my husband and I loaded up the car with sheets, towels, disposable eating utensils, clothing and diapers and headed 2 hours north to the village of Finale Emilia, the epicenter of both major quakes.
Our contact person, Liz Carosella, also Italian-American and resident of Emilia Romagna for many years, met us to help facilitate our contributions. It was immediately evident that Liz was under great stress and had not slept well during the past three weeks of tremors and uncertainty. She had two packed bags in her car with clothing and supplies for herself, her husband and her dog in case she needed to evacuate her country home at a minute’s notice. Liz took us to the command center, a buzzing scene of activity housed in European Union tents and the Red Cross building. We were told this town of 10,200 inhabitants had 2,500 homeless and that all the schools were closed due to destruction or heavy damage. A walk about the town was like visiting a ghost town, with most of the shops and buildings in the center closed and cordoned off by fences and tape. As we walked towards the 14th Century fortress and civic museum we were met by two policemen guarding the site and told we could take photos, but get no closer than 50 meters as the fortress was subject to further collapse. There were no other people in sight.
What we saw was part of a brick fortress, the Castello delle Rocche, surrounded by huge piles of rubble. This symbol of the town, which had withstood wars and invasions for 800 years, had half a remaining turret leaning precariously, perhaps just waiting for the next tremor to cascade into the street below.
Another historic building, an 800 year old clock tower, was split vertically by the first quake with half the clock remaining showing Roman numerals in TV footage. Twelve hours later an aftershock of 5.1 magnitude took down the other half, smashing several cars below.
The loss of cultural and historical patrimony is great and people in this country steeped in tradition and history are in shock upon the realization that the loss can never be replaced. Fernando Ferioli, the mayor of Finale Emilia put it quite bluntly, “A thousand years of history disappears just like that.”
This area is heavily industrialized with many foreign workers coming to work in factories and the agricultural industry. One such worker, Mohamed Azeris from Morocco, father of two, had gone back to work in a machinist factory after it had been reopened following the first quake. He lost his life in the second quake. Several other workers were killed in the 4 AM quake while working the night shift in a ceramics factory. Many of the foreign workers who had come to work in the summer agricultural harvest have now returned home with empty pockets.
But there are some heartwarming stories that have emerged from the tragedy. A 5 year old girl was rescued by firefighters from the rubble of a house, her head protected by a huge beam. Her mother had been unable to get through to emergency services, so called a family friend in New York, who was able to contact rescuers from there to alert them of the girl’s position. Three hundred thousand wheels of Parmesan cheese, damaged by a falling roof, but deemed safe for immediate consumption, were put on sale at a very special low price.
The leafy park in the center of town now houses the homeless in hundreds of tents and people sleeping in their cars. Luckily the rain has stopped and the heat of summer has not yet arrived. When we walked by a group of clowns was readying to put on a show for the children. As we drove through the countryside, many farmhouses had tents pitched in their gardens, ready for occupancy if needed and a huge shopping center had tents lining the parking lot, BBQ grills set up as for a summer camping holiday. There is talk of ‘another big one’ predicted to hit in the near future and who knows when they can return home, if their home is still standing.
To contribute to the victims of the earthquake in Finale Emilia a special emergency bank account has been set up by the commune: SOS EMERGENZA TERREMOTO
IBAN: IT 82 E 06115 66750 000000 133314 SWIFT CODE: CRCEIT2C