Anger a year after Italian quake

2010-04-06 11:34

L'Aquila - Italians on Tuesday marked the first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the city of L'Aquila and killed 308 people, amid growing anger at the slow pace of reconstruction.

The centre of the medieval city still looks like a bomb crater with large parts of it still off-limits because of the dangerous state of the buildings.

After a tense council meeting late on Monday, held in a tent, at which complaints against the government were laid out, thousands of people held a torchlight procession to mark the anniversary of the April 6, 2009 disaster.

Men and women of all ages marched in silence through the rubble-strewn streets in the cold, carrying candles and torches, joined by volunteers from the emergency services, the Red Cross and other groups still working in the region.

Four separate lines of marchers converged at 03:32, the exact time the quake struck, on the city's central cathedral, whose bell tolled 308 times in honour of the dead.

The names of the dead were then read out to the crowd as many shed tears before heading off to attend a Mass in memory of the victims.

Speakers express anger

Another Mass is to be held later on Tuesday and a plaque is to be unveiled at L'Aquila University in memory of student victims of the earthquake.

In the afternoon, children will release balloons carrying messages to friends lost in the disaster and local people will form a human chain to mark the anniversary.

At the council meeting, attended by hundreds of local people, many speakers expressed anger at the lack of progress on rebuilding the medieval walled city.

The critics point out that of the 120 000 people in L'Aquila and the surrounding quake-hit towns and village, more than 52 000 have still not been able to return home.

Some displaced residents have even taken to spending Sundays loading wheelbarrows with rubble in L'Aquila's off-limits "red zone" in a bid to shame officials over the slow pace of reconstruction.

They are angry about the decision to build new homes at great cost far from the city centre instead of focussing on rebuilding L'Aquila.

A waste of money

Although 14 000 people have been moved into new housing estates, nicknamed "Berlusconi homes", campaigners say that they are in the middle of nowhere.

They have no supporting transport links, no public services - or even shops, say the critics.

"This money could have been used differently, especially since these homes cost three times more than planned," said Eugenio Carlomagno, a co-founder of an advocacy group called L'Aquila, A City Centre to Save.

"With that sort of money they could have housed 45 000 people, not only 14 000," he added.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Giorgio Napolitano are not due to visit L'Aquila for Tuesday's ceremonies.

But both politicians sent messages of support to Monday night's council meeting, which was opened by music from a local choir, followed by a minute's silence.

Mayor Massimo Cialente called on those attending to look to the future. Up until now, he said, it had been a time of grieving.

And he called on the government to set up a special solidarity tax to help finance the reconstruction work, as has been done after other earthquake disasters.