Three weeks after the devastating April 6 earthquake, the historical centre of L’Aquila is still closed – to everyone except emergency personnel. The search for survivors may be over, but the city centre remains dangerous. Before rebuilding can start, demolition work has to be completed. Parts of roofs and walls are being pulled down before they can collapse, creating yet more victims. Nobody can live in the medieval city, now a ghost town.
The main fear now for the firemen working in this area is that recent rainfall could have further weakened already damaged buildings, making them vulnerable to collapse in the case of new tremors.
Months, even years, will be needed to bring life back to L’Aquila. There were no anti-earthquake building standards when the old part of town was built. But dozens of modern buildings have also been badly hit. It’s suspected that construction rules were not followed properly - several criminal investigations have now been opened.
“We will have to be very attentive, checking what kind of materials will be required, how they will be used,” says Andrina Pellegrini, a fine arts expert, who is hoping that the same mistakes will not be repeated. “Every stage of the rebuilding process will have to be monitored. It should not be possible to build again here with wet concrete and marine sand.”
It will cost more than eight billion euros to rebuild L’Aquila and the surrounding region, according to the Italian government. It’s a potential gold mine for the construction industry, so much so that anti-Mafia magistrates have been appointed to stop building contracts going to criminal gangs and the Mafia.
“That risk exists, we have seen it happening elsewhere,” acknowledges Stefania Pezzopane, president of the L’Aquila province. “But it would be absurd that after the horror of the earthquake we would also face the horror of illegality.”
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said that the 60,000 displaced people should be re-housed as soon as possible. As time is of the essence, structural engineers are checking over thousands of damaged buildings. Technical inspections are also in place, to reassure a population that is still in shock.
In Pettino, a suburb of L’Aquila, nearly all the modern buildings have been hit, without necessarily collapsing.
“I’m scared. I fled with my two children from the first floor,” resident Sabrina Ursini tells the firemen that are visiting her home. “While I was escaping, that wall here in the staircase started to crack.”
As he kicks her kitchen wall to test its solidity, Domenico Montecosso, an engineer from the fire department, tries to calm her down. “You are frightened because you had some dramatic moments here. I understand that. But now it’s over. You have to calm down.”
The work of the emergency services carries a huge responsibility. There can be no mistakes in the reconstruction of L’Aquila – and no more lives can be risked if another earthquake hits the region in future.