Quake survivors' misery as Italy counts the cost
05/30/2012 15:22 GMT
by Mathieu Gorse
SAN FELICE SUL PANARO, Italy, May 30, 2012 (AFP) - Rescue workers ended their search for survivors on Wednesday after a second killer earthquake in northeastern Italy claimed 17 lives and caused millions of euros of damage.
As thousands of jittery survivors fearful of further tremors stayed close to camps where they had sought shelter overnight, communities urgently called on the government for food and sanitary products for the elderly and children.
Tuesday's 5.8-magnitude quake, which centred 60 kilometres (35 miles) east of Parma and left 350 injured, hit just nine days after 6.0-magnitude quake killed six and left thousands homeless in the same region.
Exhausted rescue workers called off their searches after recovering the body of the last missing person from the ruins of the Haematronic factory in the town of Medolla, where three other workers had been found dead on Tuesday.
The head of the Emilia Romagna region, Vasco Errani, said "reconstruction will begin quickly and will be done well".
But as the dust settled, tired and miserable evacuees said they could not take it anymore.
"It's like living through the war again... We're constantly frightened there will be another big quake," said Ester, 89, who has been in a tent camp since the first quake on May 20 along with hundreds of other desperate people.
"Until yesterday, we had hope. People had begun to work in the factories again... but the new earthquake knocked us flat," her daughter Serenella said.
Italy's Confindustria business association in Modena said damage caused by Tuesday's quake was likely to cost 500 million euros ($622 million), while the Coldiretti farming association gave a similar figure for the agricultural sector.
The financial fallout for the heavily industrialised region is a severe blow for debt-ridden Italy, which entered into recession at the end of last year.
"The earthquake's epicentre is in a zone which represents one percent of the country's GDP and we risk seeing production stopped for between three and four months," said Giorgio Squinzi, head of Italy's business lobby Confindustria.
Producers of the renowned Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar from Modena have paid a heavy price, with stocks worth millions of euros lost.
"The real epicentre of the earthquake has been the world of work," Labour Minister Elsa Fornero told the Italian Senate on Wednesday.
The government said it was suspending taxes in the areas affected and would try to reboot the economy by lowering interest rates on loans.
Wednesday morning found shocked residents gaping in dismay at collapsed houses, historic buildings with holes gashed in their sides and razed churches in once picturesque towns scattered across the countryside near Modena.
The Archdiocese in Modena said that 45 churches in the region had been "gravely damaged, many irremediably."
"Everything happened so fast, in about seven to eight seconds. I don't even remember," said Daniel, three of whose colleagues died when their factory collapsed. "I'm grief-stricken, speechless. I have no tears left to shed."
Those among the weary, dust-covered evacuees who failed to find a place in the government's overflowing emergency tent camps set up rickety shelters in gardens or slept in cars or on park benches, unwilling to go back indoors.
Others bunked down in specially-prepared train carriages.
"We're more comfortable here compared to other places, it's better, safer," a frazzled-looking Hussein Mzhar from Pakistan told AFP, after spending the night on board a train with his brother, sister-in-law and two children.
Residents in cities across northern and central Italy from Pisa to Venice rushed into the streets in panic when the quake struck at 0700 GMT.
"We felt the earth tremble as if we were on a flying carpet, it was terrifying," said 32-year-old Francesco Graziano.
Panicking people broke down as they failed to get through to loved ones on their mobile phones as the network overloaded, while others gazed in horror at the traumatic damage to beloved monuments.
Italy's newspapers were again filled with shocking images, such as the church in the quaint town of Cavezzo, left derelict after its roof caved in.
As the region took stock of the damage to national heritage treasures, there were calls for an investigation into why the wreckage was so extensive.
Prosecutors in Modena said they will open an inquiry into the number of factory buildings which collapsed.
Authorities said 8,000 people were displaced by Tuesday's quake, adding to the 6,000 residents already living in tent camps since the May 20 quake -- and there are fears that the numbers may rise should other quakes hit.
"This will be a long seismic sequence which could last months or years, with magnitudes comparable to the first quake" on May 20 which was 6.0 magnitude, said Stefano Gresta, head of Italy's geophysics institute.
At a camp set up at a school in San Felice sul Panaro, survivors stood huddled together for comfort or seeking shade from the searing heat.
"I've heard we could be here until the end of the summer. We're worried we're going to be abandoned," said 68-year-old Adriana.
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