The Slow Rebirth of L’Aquila

This morning there was a gap in the programme at the workshop I’m attending here in L’Aquila so I took the opportunity to dust off my camera and go for a walk around the town. It’s hard to convey in words the extent of the structural damage you can still see more than five years after the earthquake, so I’ll mainly let the pictures to the talking. What you see here is the rule rather than the exception. To preface the pictures, however, I’ll say that the main square, the Piazza del Duomo, which clearly used to be the hub of the city is a strange place now as most of the buildings around it are so badly damaged as to be unsafe. The few shops and cafes open basically operate out of the ground floor.

L’Aquila isn’t exactly a ghost town – there were quite a few people around last night when I walked back to my hotel after dinner – but it’s clearly a shadow of its former self. Only a few per cent of the properties near the city centre are habitable.

Leading out from the Piazza del Duomo is a labyrinth of narrow streets flanked by tall buildings, and most of the them now also unoccupied. The numerous shops inside the galleries that run alongside the larger thoroughfares are all closed. The earthquake happened in the early hours of the morning so there would not have been many people out and about at that time, but it would have been a terrifying experience to have been caught between rows of buildings shaking, with rubble falling down everywhere.

A couple of things are clear having walked around all morning. One is that if there’s so much work still to be done after 5 years then it will take a very long time indeed for L’Aquila to be rebuilt. You can find the phrase L’Aquila Rinasce all round the city, but if there is to be a rebirth it will be a slow and painful one. The other thing is that there must have been a very drastic triage to decide which buildings to repair and which to simply shore up and leave for later. Many seem to me to be so badly damaged that the only practical option is to knock them down and start again. Only a few are fully restored, most of them key civic institutions, although clearly a lot of work is going on in the historic centre especially on old churches.

7 Responses to “The Slow Rebirth of L’Aquila”

  1. brissioni Says:

    I bet this wasn’t an easy article to post.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter, according to the October Physics World (p6) the appeal against conviction of those Italian earthquake scientists who were consultants to the Italian government and failed to warn of the 2009 earthquake is on in Aquila this month. You blogged on it almost exactly two years ago (23rd October 2012). Given that earthquakes can’t be reliably predicted today, I guess it boils down to what exactly the contract required of those scientists. If it required prediction beyond what was possible, why was it offered? In that case they weren’t wise to take it, tempting though the money was. Of course they could give (and perhaps should have given) a best probability every day, and let the government take consequent decisions.

    • telescoper Says:

      I had forgotten about that post until WordPress kindly reminded me!

      I was talking to one of the local particle physicists about it last week and he told me that the seismologists actually predicted the epicentre to be some way from L’Aquila. Had they acted on this prediction, thousands would have been brought to L’Aquila to shelter here, with no doubt horrendous consequences. As it turned out the epicentre was right here.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’ve just heard that the appeal has succeeded and the conviction has been quashed. More detail is expected soon.

  3. The case was about the risk of staying in your home during an episode. To be pacified into believing it was safe to stay in your home during an episode is a grave error of judgement. The towns history, density of population and construction of the buildings indicates great risk. Who was responsible for pacifying the people into believing there was not a risk?

    • telescoper Says:

      About 300 people died in the Earthquake. Given the scale of the destruction I’m astonished it wasn’t more.

  4. I am of the feeling that the local government was assuming that the people would take the normal precautionary procedures anyway, even after being pacified.

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