Earthquake in Italy: „Suddenly our whole life lay in ruins“

by Judith Kühl/SRI,  2009/04/20

They were powerless. Everything was shaking, there was a whistling sound and then a loud crash. “I couldn’t feel anything. Seconds seemed like eternity, I was trembling, my heart was pounding.” This is how thousands of the earthquake victims described their traumatic experiences with the series of quakes that hit central Italy during the past two weeks.

The earthquake of April 6th came as a nightly surprise to thousands of people in the city of L’Aquila, causing great suffering within seconds. Later on the same day, humedica arrived in the crisis zone by helicopter with two doctors and medicine on board. Besides helping people on-site, our team joined the local Alliance of Protestant Churches from the neighbouring province of Pescara.

In cooperation with our partners many affected people could be given help in a quick and unbureaucratic way. And humedica’s commitment is by no means over: Plans are already being made for medium-term aid in reconstruction. Although the state is trying hard, there are still considerable gaps in the care of the victims.

Everything is quiet in the central- Italian town of L’Aquila and the villages nearby. Only few people are walking through the streets, shops and restaurants are closed. Many houses are destroyed, facades cracked. Big cracks make people fear that theses houses might collapse like a house of cards during the next quake. Police and the fire brigade are working round the clock to secure streets and houses.

Since the strong quake on Monday, life has been taking place in the many emergency camps in and around the city. Tents in a coolish blue colour are the new home of more than 30.000 people. Noone knows how long they will have to bear this situation. Their empty gazes bode ill.

Since the earthquake took place, 68-years-old Alba has been living in a tent camp situated in front of her village Pianola near L’Aquila. At first sight, she seems healthy. Only when she takes off her sun glasses, I notice the deep rings under her eyes, the external sign of many tears, great sorrows and the fear of an unpredictable future.

The first strong earthquake and the more than 300 aftershocks that followed destroyed her house, basis of the life of Alba, her husband, her son and his family.

humedica’s help is very welcome in the crisis zone. Foto: humedica/Judith Kühl

With a faint smile Alba shows me round the camp. “I appreciate people’s help, but for me and my daughter-in-law, Cesanne, with her children, the new circumstances of life are nevertheless horrible.

The little ones are especially cold, they almost don’t sleep.” And emotional stress is getting worse 12 days after the earthquake. “Day after day we are dependent on help. Without this camp and its helpers we couldn’t survive. Yet we feel miserable, empty, helpless, like beggars.”

It’s Easter. The camp’s thousand inhabitants are waiting for lunch in the communal tent. Waiting is eased by programme and laying the table together. The table decoration crafted by the children reminds of the fact that it is Easter Sunday. In spite of the horrors of the past weeks there is going to be a celebration.

Alba and her family invite us to celebrate with them. “Happy Easter!” Alba’s sister brings a cake made by a woman from the neighbourhood. This week the self-made cake is a real treat for Alba’s sister. Generously she offers a piece to everybody. She is grateful for being able to offer something. Since she lost almost everything in the quake, she always has to take from others. Within seconds she turned needy.

The earthquake has not just deprived people of loved ones and belongings. Many people have also lost their jobs since their workplace was destroyed. Life has to go on their hands are empty.

Near the communal tent a red-eyed woman is walking to one of the plastic toilets. A young man is sitting in his car in front of the camp staring blankly straight ahead. The idyllic, snow-covered mountains on the horizon seem like an almost cynical backdrop for uncountable moments of sadness – visible and invisible ones.

Clearing-up works are in process, yet damage is immense. Photo: humedica/Markus Köhler

In the car park there is a group of young people talking lively to each other. “I’m hating it”, says 20-year-old Pamella. “These are my friends”, she continues, pointing at the others standing next to her. “We’ve been herded together here for days. There are constant quarrels – because we’re bored. I want to go home, I want my own room.” She thinks back and then – sadly – faces reality: „Our house was completely destroyed. I can’t go back.”

19-year-old Gina tells us quietly that she lost her father through the earthquake. He lived in L’Aquila. His house collapsed completely. “Here, in the camp, you can’t really mourn because your whole life is upside down. She presses her lips together. Her eyes fill with tears.

Pamella puts her sunglasses on and laughs loudly while teasing her boyfriend. Between pain, boredom and laughter. “What else should we do?”, she asks, shrugging her shoulders. “This is what our life is like now.”

Two days later, Alba calls me from her mobile phone. I can hear that it is hard for her to ask me if we could provide a camping stove and a small radiator for her family. Her state of health has deteriorated. She suffers from a chronic disease and has to eat regularly.

Her little grandchildren need a lot of warm milk because of the cold weather. Since Easter, the weather has turned worse: the temperature has fallen significantly. Blankets and small radiators were distributed, but they are by no means sufficient for protecting people from cold and wetness.

Thanks to humedica’s help, Alba’s family has received an additional heater for their tent as well as a camping stove to make life under these arduous conditions a bit easier for them.

During the next weeks and months, humedica is going to initiate further aid programmes for the people affected by the earthquake, together with the partners of the local Alliance of Protestant Churches. One of these will be a project called “Stone on stone” which aims at the reconstruction of a child-care centre. Furthermore, families will receive support for the reconstruction of their houses.

humedica is still appealing to friends and sponsors for donations made specifically for our commitment in Italy:

humedica e. V.
reference: “Earthquake Italy”
account 4747
bank code 734 500 00

Please do also make online donations for the earthquake victims in Italy. Thank you very much for any kind of support!

Judith Kühl spent over a week as a coordinator for humedica emergency aid in the region of Abruzzo. Before that, Judith, a student from Tübingen, completed an internship in our public relations department, during which she was actively involved in every day’s work life at humedica’s headquarters. At this point we would like to thank you very much for your commitment, dear Judith! All the best and God’s blessing for you!

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