Many of our very kind readers contacted us to ask if we are okay after the horrific earthquake (terremoto). Thank you for your concern and yes we are physically just fine. Our beautiful city of Ascoli Piceno had no major damage and our apartment sustained no damage. There are reports of cracked or crumbling plaster but nothing major that we know of. A sincere thanks to Saint Emidio, out patron saint, for protecting us. That being said, we are stunned to live so close to such a catastrophe and yet we are unscathed. We are overcome with a feeling of helplessness when so many so close need help. Lighting a few candles in the Cathedral and donating a bit of relief money feels inadequate.
Next we think it is very important to say that, while we are grateful for the extensive national news coverage, for those not familiar with Italy and it’s terrain it sounds like all of central Italy is shut down. With the exception of the immediate areas affected by the quake Italy is still open for business and in one piece. The best thing you can do for Italy is not to cancel or delay your plans to visit. Tourism is a major part of the economy here which is still suffering from the economic crisis of 2008. If you don’t have plans to visit Italy, we encourage you to make some. You will be welcomed, as always, by the easygoing, jovial and curious Italians that we love so much.
More details on the earthquake. At 3:36 AM on Wednesday, 24 August, we were awakened by a pretty violent shaking of the 500 year-old palazzo our apartment is in. The shaking lasted less than 15 seconds, which always seems longer, the power went out and car alarms started going off. We got up to check the time and looked out our open windows to see a few people coming out in the street and talking. The power came back on about 15 minutes later, the car alarms were silenced and our neighbor said our building was okay so we went back to bed. Based on our fine-tuned “California earthquake gauge” it felt like a moderate quake in the mountains behind us, so we went back to sleep. We did not know that our piazzas were full of Italians walking around and talking and checking on each other like it was the middle of the day because their “earthquake gauge” told them this was bad. It seems this 6.2-magnitude earthquake is identical to the one that destroyed a lot of the town of L’Aquila, also in the mountains, in 2009 when 195 people perished.
We felt a fairly strong aftershock at about 6:30 AM and went back to sleep again once the car alarm went silent. When we got up Wednesday morning about 8:30 we were stunned at the number of emails and texts we had from all over the world asking if we were okay. We turned on the news to find out the earthquake was the top story. It is now Saturday and the death toll has risen to 290 with 388 injured. The good news is the dedicated 5,400 rescuers working night and day have rescued 238 people from the rubble. We understand that the damage was so severe due to the shallowness of the epicenter. The affected area is about 25 km from our city where the regions of Lazio (which contains Rome), Umbria and Marche meet in a beautiful mountainous nature area with two national parks. Four small towns/villages have been severely impacted. Accumoli (nearest the epicenter) with a population slightly over 650 people, and Amatrice (voted one of the most beautiful borgi in Italy) with a population of about 1,000 and where about 200 of the deaths occurred. These two towns are in the Region of Lazio and the Province of Rieti. The others are Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto (often grouped in statistics) and they are in the Region of Marche and the Province of Ascoli Piceno of which our town is the Provincial Capital and has the same name. (Often people think they are talking about our city when they are actually referring to the entire Province.). The death toll there is around 50 people. For a good article about what was great about these towns go to italymagazine.com and click on the article. There is also information there on how to help. Hopefully, in time, these wonderful villages will repair and rebuild.
August is the time of year that many Europeans are on vacation in Italy and the Italians are either at their mountain homes or at the beaches to escape the heat, usually surrounded by family and friends. Small villages that may normally have 100 residents may grow to 300 residents in the summer. Our neighbor was at her home in Arquata del Tronto with her children and grandchildren when the earthquake hit. They were the fortunate ones and escaped to their garden where they spent a horrible night, feeling many people they have known for years were not so lucky. The town of Amatrice was full of visitors who were there to enjoy the annual sagra (festival) celebrating spaghetti all’matriciana which was to be held this weekend. The local hotel totally collapsed as did much of the town. It is inconceivable to relate to the sense of loss when you see upwards of six people with the same name on a list of the dead, entire families lost in an instant, others changed forever.
We read that there have been over 100 aftershocks but we have only felt about four of them. The mood in our city has understandably been very subdued and somber and the events of this weekend have been cancelled or postponed out of respect. Today is market day, but there was no market. At 11:00, those shops and cafes that did open promptly closed for a time of national morning. A funeral mass was held by the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ascoli Piceno today in a venue just outside of town for thirty-five people who perished. We watched it on television and to see thirty-five flower-covered coffins lined up with the immediate families sitting or standing next to them was an overpowering scene. Both the President and Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy were there as well as the American Ambassador to honor and console. It is hard to see the normally happy and exuberant Italians this way, but they are a strong, loving and connected people and they will help one another get through this. Thank you again for your expressions of concern and we really appreciate your feelings of connection to us and, hopefully through us, to Italy and it’s people.
Larry and Arlene, thank you for posting this heart wrenching description of the earthquake. For me, the sentence that really brought home the reality of this tragedy was “thirty-five flowered-covered coffins lined up …” and the grieving families next to them at the Ascoli Piceno funeral mass. This image makes these families’ pain real, immediate, and unbearably tragic. With all of the media coverage of the world’s disasters, we sometimes become immune to the suffering these events cause. Your insights have connected us more personally to this terrible loss. And Saint Emidio – yes – he’s the man! Grazie mille cari amici!
Very glad you both and your home and community are unscathed and well.
I am so glad you are both all right. Obviously you are still Californians at heart – going back to bed after a big earthquake. How sad to be so close to the devastation. Take care and do keep us all posted as more news unfolds.
Thank you for your thoughtful and and informative post Larry. As you said when you see the damage and how devastating this is for so many it is hard to know exactly what to do. But as you rightly pointed out the Italians are more than capable of taking care of their own as they extend themselves in good times and bad. We are praying for more survivors and for the rescue workers who must find the task so daunting. I appreciate that you pointed out that it is not all Italy that is affected, just a small area and Italy needs people to keep coming.Take care, thinking of you and Arlene.
Thank you for your concerns Helen. Arlene put that post together for us as I was having difficulty consolidating my thoughts into anything coherent. We have come to identify closely with the Italian people who have been so welcoming to us. It has been disconcerting to have a first hand sense for these places and to have a feeling for the people but to sit here nearby having no direct role to help mitigate the losses. But that is probably some of what tragedy is about.