Pow­er­ful quake spares lives

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Colleen Barry, Vanessa Gera and Gre­go­rio Bor­gia

NOR­CIA, ITALY >> The third pow­er­ful earth­quake to hit Italy in two months spared hu­man life Sun­day but struck at the na­tion’s iden­tity, de­stroy­ing a Bene­dic­tine cathe­dral, a medieval tower and other beloved land­marks that had sur­vived the ear­lier jolts across a moun­tain­ous re­gion of small his­toric towns.

Lost or se­verely dam­aged in the shak­ing were an­cient Ro­man walls, Gothic and Baroque churches and cen­turies-old paint­ings crushed be­neath tons of brick, sand­stone and mar­ble.

Ital­ian Pre­mier Mat­teo Renzi said the na­tion’s “soul is dis­turbed” by the series of quakes, start­ing with the deadly Aug. 24 event that killed nearly 300 peo­ple, two back-to-back tem­blors on Oct. 26, and the big­gest of them all, a 6.6-mag­ni­tude quake that shook peo­ple out of bed Sun­day morn­ing. It was the strong­est quake to hit Italy in 36 years.

There were no re­ports of fa­tal­i­ties — a fact at­trib­uted to the evac­u­a­tion of sen­si­tive ar­eas and frag­ile city cen­ters. Some 3,600 peo­ple had been moved to shel­ters, ho­tels and other tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tions after last week’s quakes. Many who stayed be­hind were sleep­ing in campers or other ve­hi­cles, out of harm’s way.

Renzi vowed to re­build houses, churches and busi­ness, say­ing, “a piece of Ital­ian iden­tity is at stake at this mo­ment.”

“Feel­ing the earth col­lapse be­neath your feet is not a metaphor­i­cal ex­pres­sion but is what hap­pened this morn­ing, and half of Italy felt this,” Renzi said.

The quake struck an­other painful blow to the rich artis­tic her­itage of vil­lages that dot the Apen­nine Moun­tains.

The worst dam­age was re­ported in Nor­cia, a town in Um­bria clos­est to the epi­cen­ter. Two churches were de­stroyed — the 14th cen­tury Basil­ica of St. Bene­dict, built on the tra­di­tional birth­place of St. Bene­dict, founder of the Bene­dic­tine monas­tic or­der; and the Cathe­dral of St. Mary Ar­gen­tea, known for its 15th cen­tury fres­coes. Only the cracked fa­cades were still stand­ing, with most of the struc­tures dis­in­te­grat­ing into piles of rub­ble and dust.

Tele­vi­sion im­ages showed nuns rush­ing into the main pi­azza as the bell tower ap­peared on the verge of col­lapse. Later, nuns and monks knelt in prayer in the main pi­azza. A fire­fighter ap­pealed to a pri­est to help keep res­i­dents calm in an ef­fort to pre­vent them from look­ing for loved ones.

When the quake stuck, nuns from the Saint Mary of Peace monastery in Nor­cia were pray­ing and singing hymns. The shak­ing caused their build­ing to col­lapse and badly dam­aged their sleep­ing quar­ters. Later, fire­fight­ers es­corted them back in­side to re­trieve holy books. Then an af­ter­shock hit.

“But we had courage, be­cause we were in our house and the Lord pro­tects us,” one nun told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Large sec­tions of Nor­cia’s an­cient Ro­man city walls — which suf­fered dam­age and cracks in the pre­vi­ous quakes — crum­bled, along with tow­ers.

Ama­trice, the town that bore the brunt of de­struc­tion on Aug. 24, sus­tained blows to trea­sures that had with­stood the quakes of the past weeks.

The com­mu­nity’s medieval bell tower stood tall amid the rub­ble after the Au­gust quake, be­com­ing a sym­bol of hope and re­silience for the stricken pop­u­la­tion. Dur­ing a visit to the quake zone ear­lier this month, the pope prayed alone amid the rub­ble, the brick tower still stand­ing in the back­ground. But the lat­est shak­ing par­tially col­lapsed it. The 15th cen­tury Church of Sant’Agostino also fell down.

“The mon­ster is still there,” Ama­trice Mayor Ser­gio Pirozzi told Sky TG24.

The quake was felt as far north as Salzburg, Aus­tria, and all the way down the Ital­ian penin­sula to the Puglia re­gion, the heel of the boot. In Rome, some 95 miles away, peo­ple rushed into the streets in pa­ja­mas.

The basil­ica of St. Paul Out­side the Walls, a site of Chris­tian wor­ship in Rome since the 4th cen­tury, had to be closed for in­spec­tions after sus­tain­ing cracks and dam­age to some mold­ing. There were also cracks in the cupola of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza church in Rome, a baroque mas­ter­piece by Francesco Bor­ro­mini, an ar­chi­tec­tural gi­ant of the 17th cen­tury.

The quake forced the tem­po­rary clo­sure of some of Rome’s most im­por­tant tourist sites, in­clud­ing the pres­i­den­tial palace, so au­thor­i­ties could check for dam­age.

The crowds in St. Peter’s Square in­ter­rupted Pope Fran­cis with ap­plause when he men­tioned the quake dur­ing his weekly Sun­day bless­ing.

“I’m pray­ing for the in­jured and the fam­i­lies who have suf­fered the most dam­age, as well as for res­cue and first aid work­ers,” he said.

ANSA re­ported that the quake dam­aged the church of St. Joseph in Jesi, a town en­cir­cled by medieval walls south­west of the coastal city of An­cona. The roof caved in par­tially and cracks ap­peared near the al­tar.

In To­lentino, there was vis­i­ble dam­age to the Cathe­dral of San Catervo and the Basil­ica of St. Ni­co­las, which con­tains art­work and ar­chi­tec­tural ele­ments dat­ing from the 14th to the 17th cen­turies.

With a pre­lim­i­nary mag­ni­tude of 6.6, it was the strong­est earth­quake since a 6.9 tem­blor near Naples killed some 3,000 peo­ple on Nov. 23, 1980.

Some 20 peo­ple suf­fered mostly mi­nor in­juries. Au­thor­i­ties re­sponded with he­li­copters to help the in­jured and mon­i­tor col­lapses, as many roads were blocked by land­slides.

The Salaria high­way, one of the main high­ways in the re­gion, was closed at cer­tain points. Some lo­cal rail lines in Um­bria and Le Marche were also closed as a pre­cau­tion.


A view of the fa­cade of the San Benedetto Basil­ica, in Nor­cia, cen­tral Italy, after an earth­quake with a pre­lim­i­nary mag­ni­tude of 6.6 struck cen­tral Italy on Sun­day.

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