Share

Food the only comfort for Italy’s earthquake survivors

As they prepare for a second night under canvas the homeless villagers sit down at long trestle tables to a freshly-cooked dinner rustled up by volunteers from the federation of Italian chefs.
   
It is a rare moment of relaxation, distraction and pleasure for people whose lives have been turned upside down.
   
“The cooks are excellent,” says Silvia Micozzi, 28, as she settles down to enjoy a hearty plate of pasta and beans alongside her cousin and fellow survivor Elisa Piluzzi.
   
“They give us what we need. It is very well organised, it means a lot to us.”
   
With overnight temperatures plunging to around 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahreneit), the survivors need nourishing, warming fare, said Roberto Rosati, the president of the federation’s emergency department.
   
“It is a bit chilly so we have made a soup with beans and a bit of spice,” he told AFP.
   
Rosati is a veteran of the emergency operations put in place after previous deadly earthquakes in L’Aquila in 2009 and Emilia-Romagna in 2012 and for last year’s flooding in Campania.

Like a village fete

“When these awful occasions call for it we are ready to leave,” he says, explaining that the food will get better in the coming days as more sophisticated equipment is set up.
   
“For the moment it’s not a field kitchen, it’s a kitchen in a field,” he says.
   
“It’s always like this for the first two days. Tomorrow (Friday) we’ll be set up with a field kitchen so we’ll be able to make something a bit more elaborate, a bit tastier.
   
“Because even in these dire cases it’s important to give a good meal to those who have lost everything.”
   
With a dozen blue tents set up in a field on the edge of the hamlet, the gravel paths between them indicate this temporary village is going to be in use for quite a while.
   
The tables have been laid out so carefully with plastic plates and cutlery and paper covers, that you might think everything was being prepared for a village fete.
   
Except that instead of Chinese lanterns, it is a blinding halogen lamp that provides the light.
   
The only soundtrack is provided by a helicopter whirring overhead and lorries crunching their gears.
   
Rather than roars of laughter, sighs are the order of the day and instead of enticing fumes from a barbecue it is smoke from nervously puffed cigarettes that fills the air.

Apocalypse at dawn

Over dinner, the talk inevitably returns to the life-changing events of the last 48 hours.
   
By their sides, some of the diners place plastic bags containing the handful of critical possessions they were able to grab before fleeing their homes when the quake struck before dawn on Wednesday.
   
Elisa Piluzzi, 27, tells how she had to burrow her way to safety by crawling through a hole in a wall after bashing it out to be wide enough to squeeze through.
   
From there she climbed onto a roof and finally made it into the open. As dawn broke soon afterwards the full apocalyptic scale of what had happened was revealed.
   
“There were people going around with one slipper on, those who were basically naked until 11:00 am. When dawn came it was devastating because then we really understood what the damage was, and that there were people who couldn’t be found, who were missing, were dead.”
   
The sun has long since dropped behind the mountains, and dusk and the night-time chill are enveloping the ruins of the nearest village house.
   
The gate to the park holds up a roadsign bearing the village’s name: it is all that is left of Illica.