Aftershocks hit Italy quake zone as 4,000 seek shelter
Despite the quake and aftershocks, government officials have opened polls for a second round of local elections.
Mon, May 21, 2012 at 08:07 AM
TEMPORARY HOUSING: Rescuers build a tent camp in the soccer stadium of Finale Emilia, Italy for the survivors of the sudden earthquake. (Photo: Pierre Teyssot/AFP)
FINALE EMILIA, Italy — Several thousand Italians were sheltering in cars and makeshift tent cities on May 21 as a series of aftershocks rattled towns across the northeast after a strong quake killed six people.
May 20's 6.0 magnitude quake reduced homes and historic buildings to rubble in the densely-populated Ferrara area, Italy's industrial heartland but also home to priceless architectural and art treasures.
At least 24 aftershocks were felt through the night and heavy rains lashed the area as firemen and police made house-to-house checks and rescuers set up four tent cities to provide shelter for about 4,000 people.
"We are really afraid that there's going to be another big one. I just can't believe that the whole town has been destroyed," said one resident of Finale Emilia, the epicenter of the quake, who gave his name only as Maurizio.
Many people were refusing to return home for fear that the weakened buildings could still collapse, and electricity supplies have been cut in many areas.
"We worked all through the night (to set up the camps)," said Sebastiano Lucchi of the Civil Protection agency. "We will stay here until the situation calms down."
Prime Minister Mario Monti was due to return on May 21 after cutting short a trip to the United States, where he was attending a NATO summit.
The disaster struck just over three years after a 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the central city of l'Aquila in March 2009, killing some 300 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
"There have been a lot of aftershocks, even a couple of big ones during the night but we managed to rest here, we feel safe here," Maurizio's pensioner mother Maria said as they stood under an umbrella outside their tent.
"We are worried we might be here a long time," she said. "Our house is more than 100 years old."
Six people were killed, including four nightshift workers in collapsed factories. A 37-year-old German woman and another woman aged over 100 reportedly died from shock while about 50 other people were injured.
The quake rattled the cities of Bologna, Ferrara, Verona and Mantua and several smaller towns in what one Italian newspaper dubbed "Nightmare night."
Italian television showed many historic buildings, including churches, reduced to rubble while cars were crushed under falling masonry, and in Finale Emilia the town's clock tower was dramatically sliced in two.
"According to first reports, damage to the cultural heritage is significant," the culture ministry said.
The roof caved in at a recently renovated sixth-century chapel in San Carlo, near the historic center of Ferrara, a UNESCO World Heritage site, exposing statues of angels to the elements.
Claudio Fabbri, a 37-year-old architect, told AFP the restoration had taken eight years. "Now there's nothing left to do," he said despondently.
Warehouses storing more than 300,000 wheels of Parmesan and Grana Padano, a similar cheese, with an estimated value of more than 250 million euros ($320 million), also collapsed, an industry official said.
A 5.1 magnitude aftershock struck on the afternoon of May 20, triggering the collapse of several structures already weakened, with a firefighter left seriously injured after falling from a wall.
Yet in a show of calm, officials opened polls as planned for the second round of local elections in several cities and voting continued on May 21.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said Brussels was "ready to provide swiftly any assistance that may be requested."
Copyright 2012 AFP Global Edition