New Italy quake sows ter­ror, flat­tens basil­ica

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Italy’s most pow­er­ful earth­quake in 36 years stuck the coun­try’s moun­tain­ous cen­ter yes­ter­day, pan­ick­ing shell-shocked res­i­dents for the third time in two months and flat­ten­ing a world famous 600-year-old basil­ica. Re­mark­ably, there were no re­ports of any­one dy­ing as a re­sult of the 6.6 mag­ni­tude quake, the head of the na­tional civil pro­tec­tion agency said in an up­date on the im­pact. “As far as peo­ple are con­cerned, the sit­u­a­tion is pos­i­tive but many build­ings are in a crit­i­cal state in his­toric cen­ters and there are prob­lems with elec­tric­ity and water sup­plies,” Fabrizio Cur­cio told re­porters.

The quake struck at 7:40 am (0640 GMT ) near the small moun­tain town of Nor­cia, un­leash­ing a shock felt in the cap­i­tal Rome and even in Venice, 300 km away. It was Italy’s big­gest quake since a 6.9-mag­ni­tude one struck the south of the coun­try in 1980, leav­ing 3,000 peo­ple dead. “We are go­ing through a re­ally tough pe­riod,” Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi said, re­it­er­at­ing a govern­ment pledge to re­build ev­ery dam­aged house and en­sure that dozens of re­mote com­mu­ni­ties do not be­come ghost towns. “We must not al­low the pro­found pain, fa­tigue and stress that we have now to turn into res­ig­na­tion.”

‘Like a Bomb Went Off’

The most im­por­tant ar­chi­tec­tural ca­su­alty was Nor­cia’s 14th-cen­tury Basil­ica of Saint Bene­dict. Built on the re­puted birth­place of the Catholic saint, it had sur­vived dozens of quakes over the cen­turies - but it had been left brit­tle by other re­cent shocks to the point that yes­ter­day’s brought its wall crash­ing down. The church is looked af­ter by an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity of Bene­dic­tine monks based in two lo­cal monas­ter­ies which at­tract some 50,000 pil­grims ev­ery year. “It was like a bomb went off,” said the town’s deputy mayor, Pier­luigi Al­tavilla. “We are start­ing to de­spair. There are too many quakes now, we can’t bear it any­more.” Lu­cia Rafael, one of sev­eral nuns forced to flee their con­vent in the town, told AFP the pro­longed shak­ing had “felt like the apoca­lypse.” She added: “We don’t want to leave, we want to stay and help oth­ers with our prayers, even if it means stay­ing in a tent.” Giuseppe Pez­zanesi, mayor of To­lentino in the neigh­bour­ing Marche re­gion, said the small town had “suf­fered our black­est day yet”. “Let’s hope that is an end to it, the peo­ple are on their knees psy­cho­log­i­cally.”

The quake’s epi­cen­tre was lo­cated at a very shal­low depth of one kilo­me­tre, six kilo­me­tres north of Nor­cia, ac­cord­ing to the US Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS), which mea­sured the mag­ni­tude at 6.6. Italy’s in­sti­tute of ge­ol­ogy and vul­canol­ogy (IGNV) mea­sured the quake at 6.5 and said it had been pre­ceded by a 6.1 mag­ni­tude shock an hour ear­lier. It came four days af­ter quakes of 5.5 and 6.1 mag­ni­tude hit the same area and nine weeks af­ter nearly 300 peo­ple died in an Au­gust 24 dis­as­ter in the tourist town of Ama­trice at the peak of the hol­i­day sea­son.

The 13th-cen­tury civic tower in Ama­trice, which was dam­aged but left stand­ing by the Au­gust quake, also col­lapsed yes­ter­day. As with Wed­nes­day’s tremors, the im­pact was mit­i­gated by the fact that any build­ings deemed vul­ner­a­ble to seis­mic ac­tiv­ity had been evac­u­ated. The quake was pow­er­ful enough to set off car alarms in Rome, 120 km from the epi­cen­tre. Part of the cap­i­tal’s un­der­ground rail net­work and a road fly­over were tem­po­rar­ily closed to al­low struc­tural safety checks to be car­ried out. Much of Italy’s land mass and some of its sur­round­ing wa­ters are prone to seis­mic ac­tiv­ity with the high­est risk con­cen­trated along its moun­tain­ous cen­tral spine. Italy strad­dles the Eurasian and African tec­tonic plates, mak­ing it vul­ner­a­ble to seis­mic ac­tiv­ity when they move. In ad­di­tion to the Ama­trice dis­as­ter in Au­gust, just over 300 peo­ple per­ished when a quake struck near the city of L’Aquila in 2009. In 1980, tremors near Naples left 3,000 dead and an es­ti­mated 95,000 died in the 1908 Messina dis­as­ter, when a quake in the wa­ters be­tween main­land Italy and Si­cily sent mas­sive waves crash­ing into both coasts. —AFP

NOR­CIA, Italy: Pic­ture shows dam­age near the cen­ter of this town fol­low­ing a 6.6 mag­ni­tude earth­quake yes­ter­day. — AFP

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