The earthquake, or terremoto, struck at 3:36am and woke me up pretty quickly. As a seasoned Californian of 15 years, I knew not to panic. Half-awake, I stayed in bed and paid attention to the time and severity of the tremor to figure out how serious it was. Twenty seconds. That’s long, and the shaking was steady but mild. Because I had a fan running, I couldn’t tell if items rattled.
Once complete, I checked online and found a seismic website for Europe, and within a few minutes listed the quake as 6.2 with the epicenter in Norcia, about 80 miles northeast of Rome. Wow. That’s stronger than I expected. After writing a quick post on Facebook and sending my family a quick message, I was searching for more information and writing replies to messages when I felt a very strong aftershock. It felt like the same amount of time and frequency as the first.
This is not good.
Throughout the early morning I continued to feel aftershocks while trying to sleep. By 7am when I turned on the BBC, the impact had taken shape. The images were shocking, the news the major headline of the day. Villages in Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzo provinces were badly damaged, and the first reports were coming in of loss of life. Some of the worst-hit towns included Amatrice, the town in Lazio province best known for spaghetti all’amatriciana, a Roman pasta made of tomatoes, guanciale and pecorino cheese. In fact, their yearly sagra dell’amatriciana, or Amatriciana Festival, was to take place this weekend.
At work and throughout the day, we all shared our experiences. Many didn’t feel the quake at all, due to living on lower floors or sleeping through it. A colleague spoke with one of her suppliers, who has a brother in Amatrice who is missing. He was crying over the phone, desperate to find him. An Italian friend of mine spent his summers in a beautiful village just 12 miles south of Amatrice and has a summer home there. While the house isn’t damaged, some of his childhood friends lost relatives. Needless to say, we all had a hard time staying focused on work projects.
Throughout the day the aftershocks continued, one of which I felt while sitting at my desk (a 5.1 magnitude). As I write, there have been over 160 in less than a 24-hour period. And the number of deceased has risen to 120, with search and rescue continuing.
It may seem a surprise, but earthquakes in Italy are more common than many realize. While the magnitude may not be as high as those in California, the impact is greater due to old buildings and remote villages. There also seems to be a lack of preparedness. Many of my coworkers didn’t know what to do in an earthquake and we haven’t had a drill at work over the past two years. A woman interviewed this morning on the BBC stated that “We don’t have earthquakes in Italy, so we aren’t prepared for this.” And online news had a statement from a person in one of the damaged villages who said that they lacked the right equipment to quickly tear through the rubble. Email messages from the US Embassy and work security regarding the earthquake weren’t sent for hours, so by the time they arrived they were outdated and not helpful.
Then there’s the issue of rebuilding. Italy is very slow to repair. Last summer, my friend invited me to his summer home in Abruzzo, which is close to the town of L’aquila, which suffered a 6.3 magnitude quake in 2009. I spent the afternoon strolling through the historical center which was still not functional. Most buildings were closed, still covered in scaffolding, and many still hadn’t been cleaned of debris.
And the L’aquila earthquake happened seven years ago.
What is to become of the victims and the towns that were impacted today? How long will it take to rebuild? And how can the country be better prepared in the future?
On my way home, I noticed that a makeshift stand was set up next to the Carrefour grocery store. Curious, I walked across the street to discover that a drive had been set up to collect donations of needed items that would be transported to the area for the volunteers and victims.
I went inside the Carrefour and bought a six-pack of bottled water, reflecting on the reports of volunteers working in extremely hot conditions to search for survivors. I place my item in the pile and watched as they began loading up their car. People lingered, wanting to be a part of the experience, but most of all to help if needed. What a moment.
Questa è La Garbatella. Questa è Roma. E questa è l’Italia.