City returning to normal as quake toll reaches 279

THE earthquake-ravaged medieval city L’Aquila took a limping step toward normalcy yesterday as some shopkeepers reopened for business, three days after a deadly quake made the historic centre uninhabitable.

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi said the death toll from the country’s worst quake in three decades had reached 279, including 20 children and teens.

The government also has increased emergency aid to e100 million and Berlusconi said reconstruction will cost several billion euros.

Strong aftershocks overnight rattled residents, nearly 18,000 of whom are living in tent camps around the stricken region.

An additional 10,000 have been put up in seaside hotels, out of the quake zone, and the national railway provided heated sleeping cars at L’Aquila’s main train station, where nearly 700 people spent the night.

New activity was evident across the city, as pharmacies, grocery stores, butchers, and hardware stores began operating.

Antonio Nardecchia opened up his family’s meat stall selling roasted chickens and sausages just outside the crumbled walls of L’Aquila’s historic centre.

The 32-year-old said business was slow. “We opened up today to try to sell some meat before it spoils,” Nardecchia said. “I don’t see much of a future. It is not like everything is going to start again tomorrow.”

A bakery in a one-story cement block building was a testament to survival amid semi-collapsed houses.

Inside, Evelina Cruciani, 59, made sandwiches with thick slices of freshly-baked bread, ham and mozzarella cheese, and gave them to hungry aid workers or sold them to others less in need for e3 a piece.

Not everyone was able to escape with their wallets, meaning some in the tent cities had to rely on aid until they could access their belongings or bank accounts.

Mobile post offices have been set up in every tent city to provide a means for displaced victims to access their accounts, pick up their pensions or receive money, especially from relatives who have emigrated abroad.

Workers said several evacuees had inquired about paying their electricity and gas bills, for homes they could no longer access.

Two people were detained for suspected looting in the flattened town of Onna, but were freed after proving to police the e80,000 they had on them was theirs.

On Wednesday Berlusconi made a huge gaffe when he told one German television channel that the thousands of people living in tents “should look on it as a camping weekend.”


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