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Why quake-hit Amatrice in Italy will never be the same again

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Why quake-hit Amatrice in Italy will never be the same again
Amatrice had been due to host its Amatriciana pasta festival this weekend. Photo: Angela Giuffrida
17:08 CEST+02:00
On August 23rd last year an earthquake nearly wiped out the town of Amatrice in central Italy. We revisit the thoughts of The Local Italy's former editor Angela Giuffrida, who visited the crisis-struck area soon after and found a town in mourning.

This article was originally published on August 27th, 2016. 

One of the things that survived the earthquake in Amatrice is a ticker on the roadside as you enter the historic centre, welcoming people to “the most beautiful village in Italy”.

Aside from the time and temperature, the ticker also publicized the town's upcoming events, including the festival that was due to be held this weekend to celebrate its famous pasta dish, Amatriciana.

The ticker was still going late on the night of Friday August 26th, as rescuers continued to search for corpses buried under the rubble of Wednesday's earthquake.

“It wasn't a luxurious town by any means, we lived a simple life, but it was very welcoming – the people were its soul,” Emilio, an 80-year-old who survived the 6.0-6.2 magnitude earthquake, told The Local.

Emilio was the only resident of Amatrice who felt like talking.

And his hospitality, even amid grief, was indicative of the spirit of the town of 1,046 torn apart three days earlier.

“I would have offered you a coffee,” he said.

“But I don't have a home anymore.”

Emilio lost friends he knew all his life. He managed to survive because he lived in a newer-build home on the edge of the centre. It was partly destroyed, but he managed to escape. All this belongings are gone.

A picture taken on April 2nd, 2017 shows collapsed buildings in the historic center of Amatrice eight months after a 6.0 quake completely destroyed the town on August 23rd, 2016, killing nearly 300 people.  Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Amatrice bore the brunt of the earthquake, with the majority of its 299 victims being buried under the town's collapsed masonry.

Forty-six lives were claimed in the villages of Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto, both in the Marche region, while 22 people died in Saletta, a one-street hamlet close to Amatrice, and 11 in Accumoli, a hilltop village close to the quake's epicentre. At least 387 more were hospitalized.

Ambulances could be seen leaving Amatrice's devastated centre late on the night of August 26th, three days after the earthquake, as workers searched for 15 people who, until that point, were unaccounted for.

Rescuers stand on August 27th, 2016, in front of a damaged house in San Lorenzo, near the Italian village of Amatrice. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Mayor Sergio Pirozzi called for solidarity as he vowed to rebuild the town, which was also severely damaged by an earthquake in 1639.

It was Pirozzi who, wracked with emotion, said within an hour of the earthquake hitting: “Our town does not exist anymore”.

As he made his pledge on Friday, days after the devastating quake, he said: “If the people who lived here don't escape, their mayor won't escape.”

But residents are not so convinced that the town can be rebuilt, at least not in the way it was.

“With most of the people gone, how can it ever be the same? It was the people who made it special,” said Emilio.

One thing is certain, and with the summer drawing to a close, people will need to be moved from tent camps quickly. 

“It can't be like L'Aquila,” Emilio added, referring to the nearby Abruzzo city where over 300 people were killed in an earthquake on April 6th 2009. Months later, thousands of survivors were still living in tents.

Most of Amatrice's survivors are living in tent camps near the town, others are sleeping in cars.

On the Friday after the seismic tragedy, bereaved residents wandered around, silently assessing the damage. Among the rubble of collapsed homes, intimate signs of peoples' lives could be seen – mattresses, suitcases, clothes and books.

Pope Francis walks among the ruins of Amatrice near the destroyed church of San Pellegrino in October 2016. Photo: Osservatorio Romano/AFP

One woman lost both her parents and her sister-in-law, while her brother is in hospital, her partner told The Local. She did not want to speak to the press.

Matteo Renzi, former Italian PM, pledged €50 million to reconstruct the towns affected two days after the earthquake. 

But money won't buy back the soul of Amatrice, which will now be as famous worldwide for this earthquake as it is for its pasta dish.

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