AUTHORITIES in Italy have launched investigations into possible money-laundering and fraud, after the earthquake on Wednesday of last week, which claimed the lives of about 300 people. In the worst-hit town of Amatrice, police are guarding the remains of the Romolo Capranica school, and the civic offices, as the chief prosecutor of the province of Rieti, Giuseppe Saieva, investigates whether anybody can be held responsible for the high number of dead after the disaster.
The Italian authorities had spent €700,000 in 2012 to “earthquake-proof” the school after the devastating L’Aquila earthquake in 2009 (News, 9 April 2009). The school was reduced to rubble in last week’s disaster.
The money was part of a €1-billion fund established in the wake of the L’Aquila earthquake to strengthen buildings in areas deemed vulnerable to earthquakes. A similar fate befell the bell tower of a church in near by Accumoli. It, too, had been strengthened using money from the fund; but, on Wednesday morning last week, it collapsed, killing four people.
Speaking at a state funeral for some of the victims in Amatrice on Tuesday, the Bishop of Rieti, the Rt Revd Domenico Pompili, said: “Earthquakes don’t kill. What kills the most is the work of man.” He called for the towns to be rebuilt, but said that the reconstruction should not result in “a political fight, or a looting of various forms”, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported.
The Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has ordered the country’s national anti-corruption agency ANAC to oversee the reconstruction contracts, to ensure that Mafia-linked gangs are not able to take advantage of the public money that will be made available.
The 6.2-magnitude “shallow” earthquake struck at 3.37 in the morning. The clock-tower of a church in Amatrice is one of the few parts of the town still standing. At least 231 of the earthquake victims were killed in the town.
Rescue efforts were led by fire, police, and medical teams. Pope Francis sent a team of Vatican firefighters and gendarmerie to assist the rescue efforts. He also sent his chief alms-giver, Mgr Konrad Krajewski, to comfort the bereaved.
Pope Francis intended to visit the scene of the devastation “as soon as possible . . . to bring you, in person, the comfort of faith, the embrace of a father and a brother, and the support of Christian hope”, he said after his traditional Angelus greeting last Sunday.
Addressing the crowds in St Peter’s Square, the Pope praised the rescue efforts: “The readiness of authorities, police, civil protection, and volunteers . . . shows how important solidarity is to overcome such painful trials.”
Speaking to AP on the day of the disaster, a RC priest in Amatrice, Fr Savino D’Amelio, said: “I don’t know what to say. We are living this immense tragedy. We are only hoping there will be the least number of victims possible.” A neighbouring priest, Fr Fabio Gammarota, told AP that he had blessed seven bodies extracted from the rubble in the town. “One was a friend of mine,” he said.
In an interview with Sky News, the Bishop of Ascoli Piceno, the Rt Revd Giovanni D’Ercole, explained how he had used his bare hands to dig through the rubble at the church in Pescara del Tronto to find the cross. “It will give hope and strength to the community,” he said. “Everything was destroyed, but not the cross. We will keep it as a symbol of hope.”
The Church of England’s Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, made contact with Anglican clergy in Italy. “Thankfully, it seems that no members of our communities in the areas hit by the quake have been injured or killed,” he said; “but, as we know, the final numbers of deaths and injured has yet to be known.”
The choir from St Mary’s, Maldon, in Essex, had been visiting Cascia, in south-west Umbria, at the time of the disaster. They sang evensong at the shrine of Santa Rita that evening. The former Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, Canon Jonathan Boardman, dedicated the service to the victims.
The Primate of Hong Kong, who chairs the Anglican Consultative Council, Dr Paul Kwong, has written letters of support to the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, and the Archbishop of Myanmar, the Most Revd Stephen Than Myint Oo.
In Myanmar, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake, also on Wednesday of last week, resulted in the deaths of four people.