Italy’s premier vows help for 15,000+ displaced by quakes

Italy Quake
A general view shows a cathedral in Norcia, central Italy, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. 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. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

NORCIA, Italy (AP) — Italy’s premier pledged Monday to find temporary housing for all those displaced by a series of powerful earthquakes in a central mountainous region, as the nation’s strongest temblor in 36 years pushed those needing assistance to more than 15,000.

Some communities, however, resisted relocation.

Sunday morning’s quake with a magnitude 6.6 caused no deaths or serious injuries, largely because most fragile city centers had already been closed because of previous damage and many homes had been vacated.

But it did complicate quake relief efforts in a zone still coping with the aftermath of an August earthquake that killed nearly 300 and a pair of powerful aftershocks last week that claimed no lives. Civil protection authorities are still providing housing to 2,000 people displaced from the August quake.

The premier’s pledge for housing comes amid increasing reports of residents resisting relocation, either because they have businesses to tend to, not infrequently involving livestock, or in the belief that if their homes are still standing they remain the safest place to be.

Civil protection officials said they expect the number of people needing assistance to continue to rise, as it doesn’t count the many people who slept in vehicles or made other arrangements and are likely to seek help. Temperatures overnight reached near freezing, and officials have expressed concern for the many elderly residents of these mountain communities.

“We cannot have tents for some months in the mountains, under the snow,” Premier Matteo Renzi wrote in a message on Monday. “There are enough hotels for everyone. But many of our compatriots don’t want to leave their lands, not even for some weeks.”

Civil protection authorities have urged people to move out of the quake zone, citing the difficulty of putting up tent cities in the mountainous region and the onset of winter. Many people have been moved to coastal areas, where summer resort hotels are mostly idle, and other zones away from the hardest-hit areas.

The mayor of Preci, a town of some 700 people 60 kilometers southeast of Perugia in Umbria, appealed to authorities to send campers, tents or containers, saying people did not want to leave their homes and businesses. He said up to 400 people preferred to brave the cold in tents rather than move.

“Many people have their roots here, their businesses, agricultural activities, have shops,” Deputy Mayor Paolo Masciatti told Sky TG24. “The houses are uninhabitable and some are destroyed. They have livestock. … We don’t want to go anywhere. We are born here. Our roots are here.”

Masciatti stood against the backdrop of the abbey of Saint Eutizio, which crumbled under the force of the last week’s double jolt despite reinforcements made after a 1997 temblor.

“As you see, our history, our culture, has collapsed,” he said.

Residents of Tolentino, where three people were pulled from the rubble after new collapses, told SKY they had no intention of moving on.

In the town of Norcia, closest to the epicenter, firefighters were taking people back to their homes early Monday to retrieve belongings. Small groups were taken in, and were given helmets as protection. The ground continued to shake overnight with at least two jolts above magnitude 4.

“We were inside our home and luckily the house handled it,” said Emanuela Spanicciati, a resident of Norcia. “And that allowed us to get out into the streets. There were various injured people, but in the end we were lucky.”

The mayor of Norcia, Nicola Alemanno, said tents that can house a couple of thousand people had been erected, while 500 have moved to hotels.

Renzi expressed “enormous relief” that no one was killed.

“But the damage to the housing stock, as well as economic, cultural and religious treasures is impressive. These villages are the identity of Italy. We must reconstruct them all, quickly and well,” Renzi said.

Many of the towns struck are of historic significance, including Norcia, where a Benedictine cathedral collapsed, leaving just the facade.

“Norcia won’t die,” the mayor told ANSA. “It will be reborn on the house of St. Benedict, the basilica that came down in the earthquake yesterday.”

In Rome, about 110 kilometers southwest of the epicenter, authorities closed a bridge over the Tiber River for inspection after showing signs of damage. Also the church of Sant’Eustachio near the Pantheon was closed after cracks were detected in its dome, the news agency ANSA reported.

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