Quiet terror of earthquake victims

By Dany Mitzman


It was a hot, sunny day in the flat plains which stretch between Bologna and Modena. The locals in the towns and villages worst hit by the latest earthquakes say that is the only blessing they can count.

Crevalcore has been one of the worst affected of the small towns in the province of Bologna. It is just 15-20km (9-12 miles) south of San Felice Sul Panaro, Cavezzo and Mirandola, in the province of Modena, where lives were lost as buildings collapsed earlier on Tuesday.

All but one road into Crevalcore have been cordoned off by the police. At the entrance to the town, there is a makeshift gazebo where residents of the nearby blocks of flats have been sitting since Tuesday morning.

Barbara's voice trembles as she tearfully explains there is no way she will go back into her home.

image captionThe patients of a nursing home wait patiently outside to know if the building is safe for their return

"I've got a 12-year-old and a one-year-old daughter, and we're leaving. We'll drive down to stay with my family in the south of Italy. My nerves can't take this anymore."

Barbara is one of many locals whose nerves are frayed.

Worst affected are the town's children who were at school when the first earthquake of the day - of magnitude 5.8 - struck.

Primary schoolteacher Antonio Clima was with his class of 11-year-olds when the building starting shaking, bricks came loose, and a piece of the roof ledge collapsed.

"I was very calm as I felt it was my responsibility to be strong for the children, but they were screaming and crying. It's all been too much for them."

The schools were immediately closed until further notice.

Crashing pots

In the centre of Crevalcore is the centro storico - the historic part of town - which has been evacuated and completely closed off with red and white tape.

People are waiting quietly outside the city gateways. The terror they have experienced since Tuesday morning has created a strangely calm atmosphere.

Sitting on a nearby wall in the shade are three generations of one family: Sonia, her two sons Tiago and Axel, and their grandmother Lucia. Sonia runs a paint shop in the centre of Crevalcore.

"The noise was terrible. All the paint pots came crashing down off the shelves and spilt everywhere. The cellar's covered and a huge amount of our stock's been destroyed."

Sonia says they do not know when they will be allowed back in. Lucia shows the keys she is holding.

"We've got nothing with us, I came out with my keys and that's it. My husband's over there, trying to find out if he can get back in to get his blood pressure tablets, but I don't think they'll let him."

The family has no idea where they will eat and sleep.


image captionMezar Hussein: "I don't understand what God wants"

Just beyond the wall where Sonia's family is sitting is a nursing home which has been evacuated. There are patients in beds, people in wheelchairs and others with drips waiting patiently to know if the building is safe for their return.

Then I meet Mezar Hussein. He lives just across the road. His eyes are red from crying and they fill with tears again when he starts talking.

Mezar was at work in a nearby factory this morning. "The noise of the quake was deafening. They immediately sent us all home."

Originally from Bangladesh, Mezar points to the cracks in the building and then takes me to meet his wife and two little girls. That is when the tears start flowing.

He says he has not slept since the first earthquake and is terrified for his family. Heartbroken, he describes how the walls inside the house are now full of cracks. He worked hard to buy this house six years ago and says he has no idea what the future holds.

"I don't understand what God wants," he says.

Mezar's neighbours come over to greet me and one lady shows me a long crack: "The building's broken in two and the stairs have come away from the walls. There's a deep crack down the middle of our floor. Only a crazy person would go back inside."

Her husband says he tried to go back in to retrieve documents, but was paralysed by fear. "I'm a builder, so I know the risk, and this is too great".

Most of Crevalcore's residents will spend the night in their cars, camper vans or tents, or in a train which is being brought in to Crevalcore station with couchettes that can sleep 450 people.

Sonia Mattioli says her six-year-old granddaughter has been terrified since the first earthquake.

"She's convinced there's something wrong with the house, poor thing. I've never seen my son bang his fists on the floor and cry in frustration like this. It's a situation over which none of us has any control."

But although scared, Sonia remains defiant: "I'm going to sleep in my own bed tonight", she says.

"If these earthquakes continue for another two or three months like they say they will, I'm not going to let myself be overwhelmed by panic."

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