5.8 Magnitude

The Italian Town Devastated by an Earthquake Last Week Is Struck a Second Time

A second earthquake in Italy finishes the destruction begun by the first a week ago, Barbie Latza Nadeau reports.

Roberto Serra, Iguana Press / Getty Images

The residents of Emilia Romagna in Italy’s industrial heartland were just getting the nerve to go back to their normal lives after a 5.9 earthquake struck the region at 4 a.m. May 20, killing seven people and forcing 7,000 into temporary shelters. Then disaster struck once again. This morning a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the region at just after 9 a.m., finishing off much of what was left standing and killing at least 16 people and raising the number of homeless to 14,000. Five people are still missing.

Displaced residents scrambled from their civil protection tents, raising their arms to the sky and shouting, “Basta, basta” (“enough, enough”). Unlike last week, the current quake struck just as people were arriving at their jobs, killing factory workers and a deliveryman, and even crushing a parish priest when the dome of the basilica of Rovereto di Novi fell on top of him.

Civil protection workers on Tuesday called for assistance, urging neighboring regions to send tents and emergency supplies. Area campgrounds and nearby hotels opened their doors to accommodate a new wave of displaced residents. The tent camp built for last week’s quake was temporarily evacuated to be sure that surrounding buildings, deemed safe after last week, were not at risk of collapsing.

The human tragedy of the natural disaster in this particular part of Italy is twofold. Emilia Romagna is Italy’s most productive industrial zone, producing more than 30 percent of the country’s industrial GDP. Job cuts due to austerity measures had already taken a toll on the community, which is made up of one of Italy’s largest immigrant populations. Factories there produce some of Italy’s best-known products, such as balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese. Luxury cars such as Maserati and Lamborghini employ hundreds in factories located outside Modena and Sant’Agostino. More than 15,000 people are still out of work from factories and businesses that had to close down after damage from the May 20 earthquake. Many more are expected to lose jobs after today’s disaster. What’s worse, the tremors may last for months.

Emilia Romagna is an area of potential seismic activity, but not an earthquake red zone, according to Alessandro Amato of Italy’s Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology. But now he says they will have to study whether the recent quakes have created a new fault line, which would mean redrawing Italy’s entire seismic map. That could mean cities like Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan are potentially more vulnerable to earthquakes.

Tuesday’s quake caused the evacuation of several office buildings in Milan and sent panicked residents to the streets in Bologna. High waves caused water in the Venice lagoon to lap out of canals and onto the pavement. The area between Ferrara and Bologna has had 800 aftershocks since the May 20 earthquake, which is worrying to seismologists. “We have been concerned that last week’s damage to such a complex structure would leave room for the possibility of new earthquakes and the development of new fault lines,” he said. “Now that it has become a reality, we have to investigate if this is a new earthquake red zone. We will need to review everything we previously thought about Italy’s seismic potential.”

News of the Emilia Romagna disaster temporarily diverted attention from the scandal shaking the Vatican after last week’s arrest of the pope’s butler for leaking documents. “The Holy Father is following the events with great pain and suffering for the affected people,” his spokesman said during a Vatileaks briefing, which had only a fraction of the journalists who were in attendance the previous day as the Rome press corps mobilized to cover the earthquake. No doubt the Vatican won’t miss the attention–however short the respite is.