Quake rav­ages Ital­ian vil­lages

At least 159 killed, hun­dreds in­jured in ma­jor tem­blor

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Tom King­ton and Laura King Los An­ge­les Times spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Tom King­ton re­ported from Ama­trice, Italy, and staff writer Laura King from Wash­ing­ton.

AMA­TRICE, Italy — A pow­er­ful tem­blor early Wed­nes­day, Italy’s dead­li­est in nearly a decade, dev­as­tated a string of pic­turesque vil­lages nes­tled in the Apen­nine Moun­tains, killing at least 159 peo­ple and in­jur­ing hun­dreds. It left thou­sands home­less and oth­ers miss­ing as res­cuers scoured the rub­ble for signs of life.

“It was a ‘boom’ — but it was noise you felt through your bones, rather than heard,” said 19-year-old stu­dent Alessio Ser­rafini, sit­ting on a park bench in the town of Ama­trice, about 85 miles north­east of Rome, re­count­ing the mo­ment when the quake hit.

Sur­vivors, some of them hav­ing es­caped only in un­der­wear or pa­ja­mas, spent hours out­doors, first hud­dling in blan­kets in the predawn chill, then swel­ter­ing in the af­ter­noon heat.

Ital­ian emer­gency per­son­nel set up shel­ters and urged quake vic­tims to come away and try to rest, but many re­mained glued to the scene of col­lapsed struc­tures, where the sound of heavy equip­ment and the shouts of res­cuers echoed into the evening.

Vil­lage clocks stopped when the ini­tial jolt hit — at 3:36 a.m. — and ae­rial pho­to­graphs showed the scope of devastation, gray dust and piles of ma­sonry re­plac­ing what had been quaint me­dieval streets and pi­az­zas.

On­look­ers made the sign of the cross as res­cuers pulled bod­ies from the rub­ble, load­ing them onto doors and planks that served as makeshift stretch­ers. “There will be a lot more com­ing,” Fa­ther Savino D’Ame­lio, a parish priest, A Wed­nes­day ae­rial photo shows the his­tor­i­cal part of Ama­trice, in cen­tral Italy, hours af­ter a pow­er­ful earth­quake struck. said sadly as he walked among the dead.

Ten hours af­ter the quake, two small chil­dren were pulled still breath­ing from the ru­ins of a house in Ama­trice — one an in­fant, the other a tod­dler.

Ama­trice, con­sist­ing of a small town cen­ter sur­rounded by dozens of ham­lets, draws visi­tors rang­ing from well-to-do Ro­mans who own va­ca­tion homes to back­pack­ers and young rev­el­ers from across Europe, all en­joy­ing the wan­ing days of sum­mer. This week­end, the town was to have held an ex­u­ber­ant an­nual fes­ti­val in honor of the pasta dish named for it, spaghetti all’Am­a­tri­ciana.

At the Vat­i­can, Pope Fran­cis led pil­grims in St. Peter’s Square in prayer for the vic­tims. Euro­pean gov- ern­ments of­fered con­do­lences, and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tele­phoned Italy’s pres­i­dent to of­fer thoughts and prayers, as well as any needed as­sis­tance. The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment mo­bi­lized troops to help with res­cue ef­forts and quickly freed up emer­gency funds for dis­as­ter re­lief.

Cul­tural trea­sures fell vic­tim as well. Of­fi­cials were as­sess­ing the dam­age to land­mark churches, paint­ings and fres­coes, in­clud­ing the cracked fourth cen­tury fa­cade of the Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis and the 15th cen­tury Church of St. Au­gus­tine, next to Ama­trice’s an­cient walls, the Ansa news agency re­ported.

Res­i­dents told of nar­row es­capes — and des­per­ate ef­forts to save oth­ers. When the quake hit, stu­dent Alex Cic­cone said, he was not in bed like most peo­ple; he was es­cort­ing home a friend who had had too much to drink.

The 21-year-old quickly joined in the ini­tial res­cue ef­fort, grop­ing his way through de­bris- choked streets. “The world was white with dust,” he said. Hours later, he learned that two good friends were among those killed in the quake.

Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi vis­ited the quake zone and promised that his Cab­i­net would en­act speedy mea­sures to spur re­con­struc­tion. Ear­lier, in a brief na­tion­wide tele­vised ad­dress, he pledged aid and sol­i­dar­ity for the vic­tims.

“No one will be left alone — no fam­ily, no com­mu­nity, no neigh­bor­hood,” he said.

In Ama­trice, the hospi­tal was among the dam­aged build­ings, so med­i­cal work­ers quickly moved pa­tients out­doors, and then be­gan treat­ing ar­riv­ing in­jured in the open air.

Pasquale Car­ducci, the hospi­tal di­rec­tor, helped evac­u­ate bedrid­den pa­tients, still hooked up to their in­tra­venous drips.

“Ama­trice is fin­ished,” he said.

The quake’s epi­cen­ter was rel­a­tively shal­low, mag­ni­fy­ing its de­struc­tive power. The U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey put the mag­ni­tude at 6.2, while Italy’s ge­o­log­i­cal ob­ser­va­tory mea­sured it at mag­ni­tude 6.0.

The tem­blor had jolted peo­ple awake in Rome, set­ting off car alarms and knock­ing books f rom shelves, and was felt as far away as Naples, some 200 miles away in the coun­try’s south.

In seis­mi­cally ac­tive Italy, the last ma­jor earth­quake was in 2009, in the cen­tral city of L’Aquila, about 50 miles south of Wed­nes­day’s quake zone. It killed more than 300 peo­ple.

In the hours af­ter the quake, priests moved through the dev­as­tated area, seek­ing to pro­vide com­fort even if they were in tears themselves. One cleric told of bless­ing bod­ies pulled from the wreck­age — in­clud­ing that of a friend.

AP

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