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Post-quake Italy considers prevention for a change

Earthquake-prone Italy has a history of rebuilding without learning from the past. Geologists are not alone in hoping this time will be different. There are signs it may be, reports Megan Williams from Accumoli and Rome.


Earthquake-prone Italy has a history of rebuilding without learning from the past. Geologists are not alone in hoping this time will be different. There are signs it may be, reports Megan Williams from Accumoli and Rome.
In the tent camp below the destroyed town of Accumoli, parents chat listlessly in a makeshift community center, while kids play nearby with Red Cross volunteers.

It’s just one of the many small, blue “tentopoli” – tent cities – that dot the lush, green valley below the hilltop towns where almost 300 people died in Wednesday’s devastating earthquake.

One mother, a woman named Anna, who didn’t want to give her last name, says she hopes her stay here will be brief.

“For goodness sake, the people helping us here, the Red Cross, the firefighters, the volunteers, they’ve all been exceptional, putting up tents, providing food,” she says, looking around at the dozens of workers carrying stacks of bottled water and boxes of cans to the mobile cafeteria. “But I hope to stay here as little as possible. I don’t want to leave my home, but I don’t want to live in a tent, either.”

By “home,” she means the tiny, now deserted, borough of Grisciano, where one person died in the quake.

While Anna and the several hundred now living in the blue tents yearn to return to their houses, they also realize that despite government promises of swift rebuilding, it may be months, if not years, before they do so.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has earmarked 50 million euros ($55.8 million) for emergency response.

And money is being generated from other sources. Sunday, all proceeds from visits to museums and archeologist sites throughout Italy went to a fund to help rebuild the 293 historic sites that were damaged by the earthquake.

British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver; Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement; and other restaurants around the world have pledged various amounts to be donated for every plate of Amatriciana pasta, which comes from the destroyed town of Amatrice, served.

Skeptical public

Yet, while Renzi has vowed that the destroyed towns will be quickly and fully rebuilt, observers take such promises with a grain of salt.

For one, Italy has a long history of money for post-earthquake emergencies and rebuilding ending up in the hands of organized crime.

Franco Roberti, the head of Italy’s national anti-mafia office, says, dating as far back as the 1980 Irpinia earthquake near Naples, the mafia has managed to make millions skimming off construction contracts.

“There is no use pretending this is not a risk,” he told the Italian daily paper La Repubblica. “Earthquake reconstruction is always a major temptation for organized crime.”

Roberti is calling for extra precautions – and that full transparency in contracts be implemented in the reconstruction of Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto, the three hardest hit towns by last week’s earthquake.

Francesco Peduto, head of Italy’s National Geologists Association, says it’s all too easy for politicians to make lofty promises after an earthquake; much harder to put money and thought into prevention.

“We want to believe the promises, we really do, but we’ve seen the same scenario play itself out so many times now,” he says.

According to the geologists association, in the past half-century, Italy has spent an average of 3.5 billion euros a year on repairs and reconstruction following seismic events. Yet, it’s been a Herculaneum task to get the governments to invest in prevention.

Peduto hopes this will finally change with last week’s earthquake, which he says offers a rare and stark contrast between towns that took proper anti-earthquake measures and towns that didn’t.

Norcia – hit by two earthquakes in 1979 and 1997 – instituted strict anti-seismic regulations when it rebuilt.

Just as hard hit by the quake that destroyed nearby Amatrice, Accomuli and Pescara del Tronto, Norcia remains virtually intact – and with not person killed by the quake.

‘Finally a blueprint’

Peduto says while he’s cautious of politicians’ post-quake promises, there are some small, encouraging signs that Italy is at last taken geological risk more seriously.

“For the first time in Italy’s history, after an earthquake, a prime minister has talked not just about rebuilding or re-enforcing damaged homes, but of an actual prevention plan,” he says. “This gives us some hope.”

The plan includes a “safe schools” element, not just for earthquakes, but for volcanic eruptions and landslides, the other constant threats in this geologically risky country.

The plan involves an investment of between two and three billion euros each year.

“It’s been too slow in coming,” says Peduto, “but at least there’s finally a plan in place.”


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