Do not really know what to say about this city, devastated by the recent earthquake.  Cannot even begin to imagine how the residents of Amatrice, which was completely destroyed, and the other hilltop towns are coping.

We went to visit by chance last Sunday. A cousin and her husband came to stay on their way to Norcia from Veneto where they live. Her husband and friends are part of a group that have been donating their time and skills as builders, plumbers and general helpers, to bring down donations of clothes (in the quake people were often left with just the clothes they stood up in), bedding, household goods, etc. Now they are going to build donated wooden chalets to house those most in need.  They offered to take us there so that we could see for ourselves the problems.  It was a lovely sunny spring day and the hills and valleys of the area were spectacular; this all seemed such a contrast the stories we were to hear and the damage we saw later.

We met a the local barber, Luca, who is liaising with my cousin on the chalet-building project.  He and his wife welcomed us, and the other volunteers, with a fabulous meal of local salamis, pasta, grilled meat and salad and dessert.  Such kindness in the face of such loss was so moving; as was the story that the first chalet is being built for a young family where the wife has two small children and a diagnosis of breast cancer.  Another lady arrived with a big basket of biscuits she had made for the volunteers and tearfully thanked them for the help they had given her too.  Luca’s wife visits at weekends as she is too scared to stay after the last earthquake. She and their 6 year old son, who is still traumatised by the event, are staying in Rome with her parents.

We went to the town to see for ourselves the damage before going home.  It looked like a war zone. There were large numbers of police, carabinieri, and fire brigade vehicles all around the town. Weirdly, there were a lot of tourists who had, presumably, come to see the state of the town. But nearly all the shops, restaurants and hotels are closed. We saw one bar that was still open, and they were very busy.

Although the more modern buildings and homes look superficially OK, most of them will need to be demolished because of the twisting forces that the earthquake forced through.  Many people are now living in containers, sometimes even parked on the drive of a smart home. A huge new school, just 10 years old, lies empty and cordoned off.  They have just opened a primary school in some temporary units and the secondary school is going to do the same.

The army are still there in tents (as are some of the residents). They are doing clearance work and building canals to divert the new rivers that have appeared since the tremors, and basic engineering needs. The fire brigade do regular patrols to make sure that buildings and the old walls of the town are still safe, as much is cordoned off.  Many of the shops and businesses in the town are closed and eerily their buildings have a few cracks but basically look OK. However, inside the floors and ceilings have all buckled and twisted and will have to be restored: a huge job.

Sadly, several months after the original event, many people in the rest of the country and the local politicians with their immoral procrastinations, appear to have forgotten about Norcia.  More importantly there are also mountain villages that are still only accessible by tractor as the roads are blocked and the tunnels are unsafe.  Amatrice is a pile of stones!  Nothing is standing there and what about all those poor people with nothing: nowhere to live and no means of earning a living as their vehicles, shops, tools, stock has been wiped out in the few minutes it took for the earthquake to strike.

The European Union has now apparently offered help and let’s hope that money reaches those who need it most, as we heard stories of scumbags creeping around stealing what they could from the rubble or standing in queues for clothes, donated by people who cared, which they then took to the local market in Foligno to sell for a measly profit. They really are the lowest of the low and should die of shame.

My cousin’s husband said when they arrived shortly after the quake they were put up in army tents and because the area is in the National Park foothills of the Appenine mountains, it was 10 degrees below zero. The only thing that was ‘good’ about the quake was that it happened early on a Sunday morning – before many were up and about, a day when children were not in school and more importantly had not yet gone to mass, as the only thing left of the beautiful church, dedicated to the patron saint St Benedict, is the facade.  Apparently, there were no fatalities and only a few people suffered minor injuries.

Again strangely, the statue of St Benedict never fell and nor did the war memorial.  The towers, the old wall and other churches are derelict piles of stone and yet the medieval castle with its traditional building style and the Roman main gate survived almost completely.  Those builders surely knew more about building than it seems we do.


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