Italian earthquakes cause widespread damage

An officer of the State Forestry Corp national police stands in front of a collapsed church in Campi di NorciaEarthquakes caused widespread damage and terrified residents in central Italy overnight, two months after a strong quake left nearly 300 dead and razed villages in the same area, but no-one was killed.

Several people were slightly injured, but only a few needed hospital treatment, the Civil Protection Agency said.

In Visso, one of the larger hill towns hit, the mayor said most of the damage had been to buildings already weakened by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

“The situation is ugly and you can see the noticeable damage, but luckily I can say it’s better than it looks. We don’t have victims or seriously injured people or anyone missing,” Giuliano Pazzaglini said.

The quake was nonetheless a shock to a town that had started to work on rebuilding after the last tremor, Pazzaglini said, and the hours following it were full of anxiety for people in the border area of the Marche and Umbria regions.

Many people slept in their cars. In Campi, a town of about 200, rescue workers set up some 50 beds in a quake-proof building for people who could not sleep in their homes.

“I can’t shake off the fear,” said Mauro Viola, 64, who said he had not slept and had spent the night outside.

“I am afraid to see what my house looks like.”

Police had blocked off the road to his home with a bench, and Viola said a chapel nearby had collapsed.

Boulders tumbled down the valley into roads around Visso. Officials restricted access to its historic center, awakening grim memories of the leveling of the hilltop town of Amatrice in August.

“The only time I have cried today was when I wasn’t allowed to go into the historic center,” said Visso restaurateur Elena Zabuchynska, 43.

“I thought of Amatrice, all fallen down, and I thought our city center might look like Amatrice.”

The government on Thursday set aside 40 million euros ($44 million) for immediate costs related to the earthquakes, and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi visited the area affected.

“The whole of the population is by your side,” he told local officials in the town of Camerino, adding that the latest tremors underlined the need for investments to make Italy’s buildings earthquake proof.

Renzi has said spending under a plan to reinforce the country’s schools should be excluded from European Union limits on budget deficits.

The three main overnight quakes came about two hours apart. Close to Visso, the rose-windowed facade of a late 14th century church, San Salvatore a Campi di Norcia, was reduced to rubble.

The first tremor measured magnitude 5.4, causing many people to flee their homes and the second was stronger at 6.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A 4.9 aftershock came a couple hours after that, and dozens of weaker ones followed. (Courtesy Reuters)