Italian quake capital remains empty

February 7, 2010 12:00 am

, L\’AQUILA, Feb 8 – Piles of rubble still lie in the streets of L\’Aquila 10 months after an earthquake struck the central Italian city, as many of its thousands of displaced residents wonder if they will ever be able to return home.

Scaffolding and steel supports shore up treasured architecture in the centre of the medieval walled city, which experts predict will remain a "red zone" for the next 10 years.

"The rubble is considered rubbish, and has to be removed in a particular way," said Eugenio Carlomagno, a co-founder of the Committee for an Old Town to Save, which has some 2,000 members. "There\\\’s a bureaucratic blockage," he told AFP.

Many of the some 40,000 people displaced by the April 6, 2009, earthquake are unable to return home because of the some four million tonnes of rubble still blocking the streets.

Authorities have set a goal of removing one million tonnes this year.

"My home just needs some work on the walls and the plumbing," said Patrizia Colaci, an obstetrician who is among dozens of people lodging in three hotels at public expense on the outskirts of the city.

While a staunch supporter of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Colaci said her patience was running out.

"The work should have been done by now," she said. "They\’ve had plenty of time to do this work. (Staying in a hotel) is a great waste."

Thousands of others live in hotels on the Adriatic coast or in new houses built in the area.

But statistics provided by the civil protection agency leave out some 30,000 people who have simply left the area, Carlomagno said.

On a tour of the "red zone", civil protection official Enzo Ariu said renovation work would take at least a decade, and that part of the city centre may be left in ruins as a reminder of the earthquake, which claimed more than 300 lives.

"It\\\’ll be like Pompeii, in a sense," he said, adding that priority has been placed on rebuilding "politically sensitive sites, the symbols of L\’Aquila."

Reflecting this priority, two cultural bodies dealing with art and architecture this week became the first public offices to open their doors — but in new quarters — in the red zone.

The culture ministry\\\’s top archaeologist Giuseppe Proietti hailed the event as a "good signal" but said he feared work on rebuilding the city would continue more than 10 years.

"It\\\’s an empty city," he told AFP.

The symbol of L\\\’Aquila, the medieval Basilica di Collemaggio — already destroyed and rebuilt after an earthquake in 1703 — suffered heavy damage to its transept and apse in the quake, and lost some precious frescoes.

Half of the Spanish Fortress, an imposing hilltop Renaissance castle that contained Abruzzo\’s national museum, was gutted in the earthquake.

Carlomagno noted that some 70 percent of the apartments in the centre of the university town were second homes belonging to investors who live primarily in Rome, just an hour\\\’s drive to the west.

"L\’Aquila will become a dormitory city with people living in new houses on the edges and the inner city will just be monuments and official buildings," he predicted.

Enrollment in the University of L\’Aquila has dropped from 27,000 last year to under 20,000 this year, rector Ferdinando di Orio said last month.

"The real huge problem for the students is where to live," said Simonetta Ciranna, a professor of architecture at the university, adding that rents have skyrocketed.

"It\’s the law of supply and demand," she said.

"Ten years is too long to expect people to wait," Carlomagno said. "There isn\\\’t a real plan for the city, and keeping people in hotels is a waste of money."

He charged that media coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake has been skewed, recounting that two shops opened on the edge of the red zone in a protest over the slow rate of rebuilding.

That evening a television station reported the event as a celebration of the rebirth of L\’Aquila, Carlomagno said.

The problem of the rubble still in the streets is a novelty in Italy even though the country, which sits atop two criss-crossing fault lines, is no stranger to earthquakes, he said.

"No similar matter has come up because it is the first earthquake to hit a large city," he said.


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