Note from Abruzzo

Guest contribution by Colin Bex, Wessex Regionalists’ London Bureau

Staying near a village in Casoli, some eighty miles south-west of L’Aquila, I awoke at 3.30am on Monday 6 April, but was unaware of any particular reason other than as part of an irritating cycle of broken sleep to which have become accustomed for some time now.

Neighbours say they did feel a tremor at the time, and some English people a few miles away, said their cat jumped in through the window at the time although they also were not aware of anything unusual. This it appears forms part of the quarter of grade II ‘seismic’ territory which was not affected – this time anyway……..!

Well now we know the extent of the death, injury and deracination, in addition to something of the building fabric damaged – reportedly 205 dead, several thousand homeless, 40,000 evacuated – not only failure and collapse of traditional masonry construction in churches and houses, but also of modern reinforced concrete structures including a school, a hospital, a student hostel and a road-bridge.

Buildings in some 84 Abruzze towns and cities are reported as having suffered damage of some kind – much of it to historic buildings of national importance. This gives some idea of the magnitude of this seismic disaster affecting nearly three-quarters of the region.

It seems that timber rather than masonry construction fares well in such circumstances, however, from what I have understood in the regional papers here (Il Tempo, Il Messaggiero and Il Centro), the Richter force of the ‘terramoto’ was 5.8 and one estimate of its effect is that L’ Aquila has moved 15cm.

Incidentally, geologist and seismic specialist Antonio Moretti has been publicly condemned by establishment politicians here for warning on radio that on the evidence, within the next ten years another likely candidate could be Sulmona – a fine city I visited last year high up in the mountains with a splendid statue of Ovid in one of its squares.

At the very least it is ironic that this particular seismic event should have struck when the impact of its psychological, emotional and logistical effects were to be most greatly felt – springtime at Easter when religious, atheist and heathen alike expect to be able to sense relief from the rigors of winter and to experience hope from the new cycle of life.

On Good Friday, I attended part of one of the region-wide candle-lit religious processions held in sympathy of which two took place on successive evenings in Lanciano.

The turnout was impressive – probably several thousand people comprising four generations of families from babies to great grand-parents who lined the streets waiting patiently for the pallbearers to pass by. Also, I was deeply saddened to reflect on the passion and immeasurable suffering of the bereaved, so powerfully portrayed at the numerous public funeral gatherings held also in cities, towns and villages throughout Abruzzo on Easter Saturday.

Not surprisingly, at L’Aquila itself it is reported 5,000 people attended the funeral service for the 205 who died.

‘Per Sempre Insieme, Dolore in tutto Paese, inno di speranza dalla Via Crucis del Papa’ – so ran Il Messaggero’s headline: ‘For all together, Sadness throughout the country, hymn of hope through the Way of the Cross by the Pope’.

Laid out in seried ranks, flower-bedecked coffins provided copy for the press and the focus for the Requiem in L’Aquila’s main square, but it was the substantially pervading silence of this grieving assembly, not the Papa’s nor his cardinal’s words, which testified more eloquently to the profundity of dismay which bound those present in an exemplary gathering of regional unity.

In my role as co-ordinator for external affairs for the Wessex Regionalists, the incident has been an object-lesson in the emergent power of latent cohesion of a regional people when confronted by the consequences of a natural event within a seismic zone.

Albeit purloined as part of a centralist Republic, how the Abruzzese survivors may be coping with the additional impact from the man-made financial fiasco, requires more research.

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