Locals abandon their homes in quake-hit central Italy

The coloured houses and bustling squares of villages nestled in the mountains of the Marche region in central Italy were abandoned in a matter of hours as earthquake survivors fled.

Locals abandon their homes in quake-hit central Italy
Residents have abandoned their towns after two powerful earthquakes. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

As residents from Visso to Ussita and Castelsantagelo reeled from two powerful quakes on Wednesday and gazed in desolation at the collapsed buildings and cracked church towers, firemen ordered them to leave for security reasons.

Many in Ussita had already run from their homes as the first quake hit at 7:10pm, and were somewhere safe by the time the second, 6.1 magnitude quake, toppled walls at 9:18pm.

There have been nearly 700 aftershocks since then.

Those hoping to go back have to be escorted by firefighters: “We help one by one those who want to return home to recover personal items, essential things,” fireman Michelangelo Garetti told AFP.

Locals line up to identify themselves and point out their houses. One man, Otello, said he wanted to recover “some valuables and also clothes for the winter, which promises to be long and hard”.

While this is an area of lush green forests and valleys in bloom in the warm months, temperatures plunge once the snows fall.

“Few houses are safe and in any case we don't trust them. The ground has been 'dancing' under our feet in this small valley for the past two months,” said the man, who is being put up by relatives in nearby Macerata.

Wooden bungalows

Ussita had already been shaken hard by a deadly nighttime earthquake on August 24th which hit a few dozen kilometers to the south.

Now locals are “either with relatives, or in hotels near the coast, or sleeping in campers,” said Lara Manzoni, a 30-something resident who moved from Bergamo in the north of Italy a year ago to settle in Ussita.

Although she works for a frozen pizza company in a nearby village, she and hundreds of colleagues must wait for experts to verify to what extent the company's premises were damaged before she can return to work.

“I sent my children to my mother in Bergamo to keep them safe, but I could not see myself leaving all these people in trouble,” she said. Although the government has promised that all destroyed or damaged buildings will be rebuilt, “I do not know if I'll stay”.

“I might leave the Marche region entirely, or buy a camper myself,” she said.

In the meantime she is lending a hand at the village's campsite, which reopened out of season on Wednesday to accommodate some 250 quake survivors in its Alpine chalet-style wooden bungalows.

Some locals were lucky enough to already have their own, others have been lent chalets – bedding and all – by absent owners.

On a hill overlooking the site stands the village's once-prized attraction: a 15th century tower, now cracked from top to bottom.

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Central and southeast Italy struck by more than two dozen small earthquakes in less than 36 hours

A number of earthquakes struck the region of Molise on the nights of August 15th and August 16th and the morning of August 17th. An earthquake was also felt in Le Marche near the port city of Ancona.

Central and southeast Italy struck by more than two dozen small earthquakes in less than 36 hours
Photo: ChiccoDodiFC/Depositphotos

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake struck four kilometres from the southeastern town of Montecilfone, a village of 1,348 people, in the region of Molise, on the night of August 16th just after 8pm, according to Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV), which monitors seismic activity.

More than 90,000 people live within 20 kilometres of the epicentre, according to INGV.

“We felt a very strong shake,” Montecilfone's mayor, Franco Pallotta, told Italian daily Repubblica. The mayor added that he was touring homes to assess the damage.In Campomarino, a small town of just over 7,000 people situated 15 kilometres from the epicentre, residents left their homes and were encouraged to gather in the main square by Italy's civil defence coordination department. 

No casualties have yet been reported, although the Civil Protection Department, which coordinates relief in such natural disasters, is still investigating.
“The necessary checks are in progress for any damage to people or things,” it said in a statement, adding in a subsequent communiqué that “minor damage” had been recorded. The mayors in the nearby towns are verifying any buildings vulnerable to seismic activity and ensuring assistance to the local population. 
“At the moment there are no requests for assistance, nor have collapses been reported to the operating rooms of the fire department. The teams that went out on reconnaissance have found, for the moment, only the fall of some cornices,” tweeted Italy's fire department regarding the main earthquake in Molise.
The mayor of Aquaviva Collecroce, another town near the epicentre of the larger earthquake in the province of Molise, communicated on Facebook that the town's football pitch had been made available for residents to sleep at. 

“I urgently need technicians to assess the damage,” wrote Francesco Trolio, Aquaviva Collecroce's mayor on August 16th. 

“The area is little known from the seismic point of view due to a limited documentation of historical seismicity,” writes INGV in its statement. 

A 2.6 magnitude earthquake was also registered nine kilometres from Ancona on Friday August 17th on the coast in the province of Le Marche. No one was hurt and no damage was reported, according to Ancona local daily Il Corriere Adriatico. Six other small earthquakes have so far been recorded in the regions of Molise and Le Marche today. 
More than 20 other quakes ranging between 2 and 3.1 magnitude were recorded by INGV since the morning of Thursday August 16th in the two regions. 
Much of the fear local residents are feeling is due to recent earthquakes that have devastated nearby regions in central Italy. On August 24th, 2016, 297 people died when a magnitude 6.0 earthquake destroyed much of the town of Amatrice.
An earthquake in the Umbrian town of Norcia in October of the same year destroyed much of the city centre, but somehow miraculously no one was hurt. 
In August 2017, two people died when an earthquake struck the southern island of Ischia. Two strong earthquakes also occurred in the provinces of Molise – where the latest shock has been felt – and Abruzzo in April this year.