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April 05, 2010

L'Aquila Remembers 2009 Earthquake Victims

by Sabina Castelfranco

One year ago, Italy experienced its deadliest earthquake in three decades in the central city of L'Aquila. Three hundred eight people were killed and tens of thousands were left homeless. Torch-lit processions were held on Monday night and a Roman Catholic mass was held at early Tuesday morning in the Basilica of Collemaggio to remember the victims.

At 3.32 a.m., the time the deadly quake struck last April 6, a requiem was played in L'Aquila's central Piazza Duomo. The names of all 308 victims were read aloud. No one in the town has been able to forget the tragedy.

Sergio Bianchi lost his 22-year-old son, Nicola.

"It's difficult," he says. "There's lots of anger, discouragement and solitude."

Residents were asleep in their beds when the 6.3 magnitude quake struck. People fled their homes in L'Aquila and in more than 40 surrounding towns and villages. Many were unable to get out fast enough. Thousands of buildings were reduced to rubble, including centuries old churches.

Survivor Sergio Bianchi says poor construction heightened the death toll.

He says earthquakes are natural events, but if homes were built properly, the L'Aquila quake would not have been so devastating.

Most of downtown L'Aquila is still off-limits, as is the historic districts of most surrounding towns. Although tent cities have disappeared, tens of thousands of people still are living in some form of temporary housing.

The head of Italy's civil defense department, Guido Bertolaso, says much has been done over the past 12 months.

He says students have been able to return to school and new homes have been built for tens of thousands of people.

Joshua Lawrence used to live in L'Aquila. His house was severely damaged by the quake. He and his family are now renting an apartment in Pescara, Abruzzo's – a modern city on Italy's Adriatic coast. Lawrence says the L'Aquila he knew no longer exists.

"There's nothing. There's one bar open. There's no place to just hang out. There's no way to live in this city," Lawrence said. "There was a university in town. There were thousands of people animating the downtown, keeping it alive. And that's just not there anymore."

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says it will take years to rebuild L'Aquila delicate, urban and artistic heritage. But he says, residents must be confident because the reconstruction is underway.

The mayor of L'Aquila, Massimo Cialente, sums up feelings of most people who experienced the quake.

"Don't forget us," he says. "That's what people here want – not to be forgotten because this is just the beginning."