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Italy in 'miraculous' earthquake escape
By Franck IOVENE
Visso, Italy (AFP) Oct 27, 2016

Nightmare recurs on Italy's earthquake frontline
Ussita, Italy (AFP) Oct 27, 2016 - "It's never ending. These damned earthquakes won't leave us alone!"

As she distributes pastries, hot coffee and juice to the traumatised residents of Ussita in the early hours of the morning, restaurateur Linda Cappa expresses the prevailing mood in this quake-prone Italian village after its latest brush with disaster.

Located in the mountainous interior of the Marche region, Ussita was close to the epicentre of two powerful shocks that shook a large swath of Italy on Wednesday evening.

Elderly villager Bruno recounted how he had headed straight for his car as soon as the first one struck. Experience had told him he had to get out of his house.

"The second one was much, much stronger than the first," he said. "It seemed like it was going to go on for ever.

"I thought my car was going to be turned over. It's a disaster. What on earth is going on under our feet?"

Situated at just above 600 metres (around 2,000 feet), Ussita is home to around 300 people.

Although no deaths were reported, Wednesday's tremors did significant damage and left the area's population in shock once more, two months after nearly 300 people died in another quake centred closed to the nearby town of Amatrice.

The village's mayor Marco Rinaldi described "apocalyptic" scenes of people running into the streets screaming.

"The lights went out, our village is finished," he said a few hours later as he prepared to chair a crisis meeting of rescue workers in a tent hastily erected in the middle of the village.

The winding road that leads up to the village was strewn with stones and debris that had tumbled down the mountainside.

- Cards and cigarettes -

Numerous buildings looked like they have been hit by bombs, others had collapsed completely.

Aftershocks, some powerful, some just strong enough to provide a reminder of the big ones, rumbled repeatedly throughout the night.

The villagers have got used to feeling the earth move beneath them, having been shaken by thousands of aftershocks since the August 24 quake, which left nearly 300 people dead.

"We are a bit used to this now," says Cappa with an air of weary resignation.

On the edge of the village, Red Cross staff have re-established tents they first put up in August, housing around 100 of the village's 300 residents.

Some smoke anxiously, others play cards to pass the time. A few try to get some sleep on camp beds.

"It is the one place they feel safe," said Alessandra Franconi, a volunteer helping the aid effort who says the rest of the village's inhabitants have either opted to sleep in their cars or headed for a local campsite.

Wooden huts alongside the tents have been there since 1997, when they served as accommodation for victims of a previous earthquake before later housing a temporary village school.

Another resident, Sergio, is feeling anxious about what the arrival of daylight will reveal.

"I have no idea what state I am going to find my house in. We'll see. The only thing I hope is that it did not collapse on top of anyone."

Italy on Thursday vowed to rebuild every home destroyed after two powerful earthquakes that forced thousands to flee in terror but "miraculously" did not cause any fatalities.

Two months after tremors in the same area left nearly 300 dead, the twin quakes ripped through a mountainous, sparsely-populated part of central Italy on Wednesday evening.

Despite numerous building collapses, no deaths were reported in the aftermath of the 5.5 and 6.1 magnitude tremors.

"Given the strength of the shocks, the absence of any deaths or serious injuries is miraculous," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said, while Prime Minister Matteo Renzi headed to the scene to help oversee rescue efforts.

At least 4,000 people will not be able to return to their homes in the immediate term, according to civil protection officials.

The government announced the release of 40 million euros ($44 million) and extended a state of emergency declared after the deadly August quake.

"We will rebuild everything, 100 percent, that is the government's commitment," said Vasco Errani, the reconstruction supremo appointed after the August disaster.

More than 200 aftershocks rattled the area through the night and into Thursday after the initial two were felt in Rome, some 175 kilometres (110 miles) away from the epicentres.

Many people spent Wednesday night in their cars, battered by driving rain. The sun came out on Thursday, but the scale of the task will only become clear in days and weeks to come.

Marco Rinaldi, mayor of the village of Ussita, described "apocalyptic" scenes. "People were in the streets screaming. Many houses have collapsed. Our town is finished," he said.

"I've felt a lot of earthquakes but that was the strongest I've ever felt. Fortunately everyone had already left their homes after the first quake so I don't think anyone was hurt."

- Freezing temperatures -

Geologist Mario Tozzi told AFP the damage was caused by a new earthquake, rather than, as first thought, aftershocks from the August one.

Tozzi said the twin tremors were consistent with a pattern of seismic "double strikes" in the central Appenines.

Even in Rome, some people took to the streets as a precautionary measure, underlining lingering jitters after the summer disaster.

Wednesday's tremors struck an area just to the north of Amatrice, the mountain town which was partially razed by the August quake and suffered the bulk of the fatalities.

The epicentres were near the village of Visso, located on the edge of the region of Marche close to the border with Umbria.

"Not a single house is usable," whether because they were totally destroyed, suffered cracks or were just rendered unstable, said Visso mayor Giulio Pazzaglini, talking to villagers in a Red Cross reception centre.

The civil protection agency reopened tent camps set up after the August earthquake but officials warned they could only be a temporary solution as winter approaches.

Many mountain villages in the area are located at an altitude of over 600 metres (2,000 feet) and overnight temperatures will soon be falling below freezing.

"You can't imagine spending winter in a tent. We shouldn't even put up camps," Renzi told a meeting of emergency officials in the town of Camerino.

- 'Thank God we're alive' -

Visso's historic centre was taped off on Thursday, barring pensioner Massimo Testa from going back to what remains of the 15th century house he and his wife had lovingly renovated.

"We only just had enough time to get out after the second shock before the house collapsed," he told AFP with tears in his eyes.

"My wife was petrified, she could see masonry falling around her. Thank God we are still alive, that is the most important thing."

August's disaster caused an estimated four billion euros ($4.5 billion) of damage and some 1,400 people made homeless are still living in temporary accommodation.

The impact of that quake was magnified because it took place at the height of the summer holiday season, when many normally barely-occupied villages were packed with tourists and families returning to ancestral homes.



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Previous Report
Strong twin quakes rock central Italy
Rome (AFP) Oct 26, 2016
Twin earthquakes rocked central Italy on Wednesday - the second registering at a magnitude of 6.0 - in the same region struck in August by a devastating tremor that killed nearly 300 people. Several dozen people were treated for light injuries or shock, civil protection chief Fabrizio Curcio told a late night press conference, but no serious injuries had been reported. As authorities r ... read more

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