Small town coming to terms with major destruction following central Italy quake
Some 100km northeast of Rome, the town of Amatrice is devastated, with entire buildings razed and the air thick with dust and smelling strongly of gas.
“The town isn’t here anymore,” said Mayor Sergio Pirozzi.
Home of amatriciana, one of Italy’s favourite pasta sauces, Amatrice is a popular destination for Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer.
It was packed with visitors when the quake struck at 3.36am.
Three minutes later the clock on the village’s 13th-century tower stopped.
Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as some 39 aftershocks jolted the region into the early morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.
“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” marvelled resident Maria Gianni. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”
Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home with a blanket over her shoulders, said she didn’t know what had become of her loved ones.
“It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there’s nothing left,” she said, too distraught to give her name. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”
As daylight dawned, residents, civil protection workers and even priests began digging out with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands, trying to reach survivors. There was relief as a woman was pulled out alive from one building, followed by a dog.
“We need chain saws, shears to cut iron bars, and jacks to remove beams: everything, we need everything,” civil protection worker Andrea Gentili said.
“The aim now is to save as many lives as possible. There are voices under the rubble, we have to save the people there,” Pirozzi told state broadcaster RAI. He estimated dozens of residents were buried under collapsed buildings and that heavy equipment was needed to clear streets clogged with debris.
The hospital in Amatrice was among the buildings that were badly damaged, and patients were moved into the streets.
Aerial footage showed whole areas of Amatrice, voted last year as one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns, flattened by the quake.
The devastation harked back to the 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in and around L’Aquila, about 90km south. L’Aquila sent emergency teams on Wednesday to help with the rescue.
“It’s all young people here, it’s holiday season, the town festival was to have been held tomorrow (Friday) so lots of people came for that,” said local resident Giancarlo, sitting in the road wearing just his underwear.
“It’s terrible, I’m 65-years-old and I have never experienced anything like this, small tremors, yes, but nothing this big. This is a catastrophe,” he said.
The disaster has been keeping the local clergy busy.
“I don’t know what to say. We are living this immense tragedy,” said the Reverend Savino D’Amelio, a local parish priest. “We are only hoping there will be the least number of victims possible and that we all have the courage to move on.”
Another priest, Reverend Fabio Gammarota, said he had blessed seven bodies extracted so far. “One was a friend of mine,” he said.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters