L’AQUILA, Italy – Inhabitants of the central Italian city of L’Aquila still shudder at the memory of an earthquake that scarred their lives, shattered their homes and left thousands still living in temporary shelters amid a hubbub of reconstruction 10 years later.
Disaster struck at 3:32 am on April 6, 2009, as a magnitude-6.3 earthquake killed 309 people and damaged up to 11,000 buildings, many of which collapsed entirely, making some 65,000 people homeless.
To date, there are still some 3,000 people living in makeshift accommodation.
Around 75 percent of the damaged houses have been or are in the process of being rebuilt, Pierluigi Biondi the mayor of the city that is the capital of the central and mountainous region of Abruzzo, told EFE.
“In around five years the reconstruction of private homes will have finished,” Biondi added.
The massive earthquake has become a milestone date for the people of L’Aquila, cementing the start of a new calendar with locals referring to a “before” and “after” the fatal event.
“On that day everything looked celestial,” 82-year-old Maria, who was only able to return to her home six months ago, told EFE.
“I wasn’t conscious of what was going on. I thought I was dead,” she added.
On the night of the quake, Maria remembers her neighbor falling through her ceiling clutching his bedstead.
Today she wanders around the town arm in arm with Elisa, a friend she met whilst in temporary housing and with whom she now does everything.
They travel to the suburbs of the city to do their shopping because there is no supermarket in the city center.
“Before the earthquake, this was a bustling city,” Elisa said.
“There were people everywhere. If they don’t do something quickly to help L’Aquila to recover it will die,” Elisa added.
The inhabitants have become accustomed to the constant throbbing of drillers and diggers which only stop when builders potter down to the Duomo plaza for their lunch breaks.
Some children still attend schools that are housed in makeshift shacks.
As you walk through the streets, images of shops petrified in time are common, with dusty display cabinets and old signs giving details of opening times or adverts hailing the “new 2009 collection” of clothes.
But interspersed with the old, new-builds have also started to emerge, and, with them, new businesses, in an attempt to revitalize the city.
“This business is a gamble because we are the only ones on this street and the trucks from the building works don’t allow access,” Marco de Silvestri, joint owner of a new perfume shop in downtown L’Aquila, said.
“But someone has to start,” the entrepreneur added.
“This shop looks to the future, not the present,” Carlo Capone, Silvestre’s business partner, continued.
“The present in the center of L’Aquila is very harsh,” he added.
Cecilio Santilli launched a stationery shop a month ago in what he has labeled “an act of love for the city.”
“As a minimum, everything has to be tried, otherwise what do we do? Abandon everything?” Santilli asked.
Many citizens did exactly that after the quake.
There are no official figures but the population in 2009 was of 72,000 and now hovers around 70,000.
Many have refused to leave despite their fear.
“We would sleep on mattresses in the restaurant that we had on the ground floor because we were frightened of being in the house,” said Laura, a young woman who has since re-opened her restaurant.
The 63-year-old Graziella hasn’t left either. She sips on her coffee in a bar in the center.
“To leave would be to betray the city,” she said. “L’Aquila is a city that has given me a lot. How am I going to leave when it needs us? I won’t do it.”
The deadly quake that rocked the city 10 years ago has left an emotional wound. Its citizens bear a scar that has not healed.
The city also suffers the ensuing consequences of the disaster, as dust and debris continue to pile up on its streets.
Biondi says the city will need at least another decade and a budget of some 25 billion euros ($28 billion) to recover its former glory.