NORCIA, Italy – Residents of a mountainous region of central Italy displaced by a series of powerful earthquakes resisted relocation Monday and appealed for campers and tents so they could remain close to their homes and businesses.
The latest quake on Sunday morning —with a magnitude 6.6, the strongest to hit Italy in 36 years — caused no deaths or serious injuries, largely because most vulnerable city centers already had been closed due to previous damage and many homes vacated.
But it did complicate relief efforts in a fragile zone still coping with the aftermath of an August earthquake that killed nearly 300 and a pair of damaging aftershocks last week.
Civil protection officials said the number of people needing housing has risen by 15,000 since Wednesday, a figure that does not include the 2,000 who remained displaced from the August quake.
Although thousands already have been moved to coastal regions out of harm’s way, a growing number of quake-stricken communities are insisting on staying put. They say they have businesses to tend to, not infrequently involving livestock, or think that if their homes are still standing they remain the safest place to be.
On Monday, some 20 people remained in the hilltop town of Castelluccio, which aerial video shot by Italian firefighters show was all but razed on Sunday. The town is famous for its lentils and its spectacular display of wildflowers, and the residents who stayed behind include farmers and shepherds sharing a camper and two containers they organized themselves, according to the news agency ANSA.
“This town is dead and buried,” Adorno Pignatelli told ANSA. “But we will continue to grow flowers because we won’t let it die definitively.”
The head of the Coldiretti farm lobby in Macerata province, Francesco Fucilli, said many livestock owners had suffered both damaged barns and homes. They cannot relocate to shelters because they need to stay near their animals at night, Fucilli said, so are appealing for campers, containers or other temporary structures that would allow them to shelter in place.
“This is a very dramatic situation,” Fucilli told press. “Our livestock breeders cannot move, especially at night. They need to be near their animals to sleep, to look after them and protect them from wild animals.”
Wolves in the area are a problem in particular for sheep. For now, cows remain at pasture, but will need to have their barns rebuilt before freezes begin in a few weeks, he said.
Civil protection officials said they expect the number of people needing assistance to continue to rise, as it doesn’t count the many people who were sleeping in vehicles or had made other arrangements before the latest earthquake. Temperatures overnight dropped to near freezing, and officials have expressed concern for the many elderly residents of the mountain communities.
“We cannot have tents for some months in the mountains, under the snow,” Premier Matteo Renzi wrote in a message on Monday. “There are enough hotels for everyone. But many of our compatriots don’t want to leave their lands, not even for some weeks.”
Civil protection authorities have urged people to move out of the quake zone, citing the difficulty of putting up tent cities in the mountainous region and the onset of winter. Many people have been moved to coastal areas, where summer resort hotels are mostly idle, and other zones away from the hardest-hit areas.
The mayor of Preci, a town of some 700 residents located roughly 37 miles southeast of Perugia in Umbría, appealed to authorities to send campers, tents or containers, saying people did not want to leave their homes and businesses. He said up to 400 people preferred to brave the cold in tents rather than move.
“Many people have their roots here, their businesses, agricultural activities, have shops,” Deputy Mayor Paolo Masciatti told Sky TG24. “The houses are uninhabitable and some are destroyed. They have livestock. … We don’t want to go anywhere. We are born here. Our roots are here.”
Masciatti stood against the backdrop of the abbey of Saint Eutizio, which crumbled under the force of the last week’s double jolt despite reinforcements made after a 1997 temblor.
“As you see, our history, our culture, has collapsed,” he said.
Residents of Tolentino, where three people were pulled from the rubble after new collapses, told SKY they had no intention of moving on.
In the town of Norcia, closest to the epicenter, firefighters were taking people back to their homes early Monday to retrieve belongings. Small groups were taken in and were given helmets as protection. The ground continued to shake overnight with at least two jolts above magnitude 4.
“We were inside our home and luckily the house handled it,” said Emanuela Spanicciati, a resident of Norcia. “And that allowed us to get out into the streets. There were various injured people, but in the end we were lucky.”
The mayor of Norcia, Nicola Alemanno, said tents that can house a couple of thousand people had been erected, while 500 have moved to hotels.
Renzi expressed “enormous relief” that no one was killed.
“But the damage to the housing stock, as well as economic, cultural and religious treasures is impressive. These villages are the identity of Italy. We must reconstruct them all, quickly and well,” Renzi said.
Many of the towns struck are of historic significance, including Norcia, where a Benedictine cathedral collapsed, leaving just the facade.
“Norcia won’t die,” the mayor told ANSA. “It will be reborn on the house of St. Benedict, the basilica that came down in the earthquake yesterday.”
In Rome, about 70 miles southwest of the epicenter, authorities closed a bridge over the Tiber River for inspection after it showed signs of damage. Also, the church of Sant’Eustachio near the Pantheon was closed after cracks were detected in its dome, the news agency ANSA reported.