State of emergency in Italy quake zones

2012-05-22 19:22

Rome - The Italian government on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in the earthquake-hit northern region of Emilia Romagna and said it was setting aside €50m for relief efforts, including securing damaged buildings and roads.

The money would come from the existing budget of the civil protection agency, meaning that at the moment additional public funding was not envisaged, the government said in statement.

Seven people were killed and about 50 injured in the 5.9-magnitude earthquake on Sunday. The number of homeless is estimated at 5 260.

The state of emergency will last 20 days. It temporarily suspends local regulations, allowing civil protection agency officials to intervene in relief operations without having to obtain permission from local municipal authorities to do so, the government said.

Relief operations would be concentrated in the areas around the cities of Bologna, Modena, Ferrara and Mantua, the government said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mario Monti told survivors that the government was also considering tax breaks to help them cope with damage to homes, factories and farms.

"We are very close to the families of the victims and we will try to help them face this very difficult situation," said Monti.

He was speaking during a visit to a tent shelter for survivors in one of the worst-hit towns, Finale Emilia.

"As soon as possible, we will make provisions in relation to fiscal payments," Monti said.

The area has since been hit by dozens of aftershocks - including one of 3.8 magnitude on Tuesday morning - while inclement weather has hampered recovery efforts, including repair to power lines, water pipes and the clearing of roads.

A cabinet undersecretary, Antonio Catricala, told parliamentarians that, among emergency measures the government was considering are the postponing of payment deadlines for a recently introduced property tax.

The tax forms part of an austerity plan introduced by Monti's technocratic government aimed at balancing the budget and also reassuring investors that the eurozone' third-largest economy is able to repay its public debt of nearly 2 trillion euros, the highest in Europe.

Emilia Romagna lies in the fertile Po Valley, where thousands of small-and medium-sized enterprises - many of them producing export-orientated goods - are located.

The damage has included the collapse of medieval churches, towers and castles, but also warehouses, workshops and farm sheds.

The country's main farmers association, Coldiretti, said damage to the agriculture sector tops €200m.

Coldiretti said the collapse of several ageing rooms had caused the loss of some 300 000 units of Parmesan and Grana Padano - a figure that amounted to 10% of national production of the aromatic cheeses.

The poultry and livestock sectors had also been affected. In one case, more than 100 pigs died when a sty collapsed near the town of Massafinalese, Coldiretti said.