Victims of oblivion: the Apennines earthquakes

Amatrice, August 20, 2017. A year after the earthquake not much has changed.

Words&Photographs by Elena Fusco

When an earthquake hits an inhabited place, from natural phenomenon, it becomes a social disaster. What it destroys is no longer just material; it takes away an entire society. Just a few weeks away from the tenth anniversary of the earthquake of L’Aquila and three years after the one of Amatrice, this documentary aims at reflecting the sense of abandonment that hits this region by showing the daily life of its inhabitants, their struggles due to the lacks support and coordination of the public authorities, and their hardship facing material and social destruction.

On April 6, 2009 at 3:32 am local time, the earth shook in L’Aquila. The tremors were measured 6.3 on the Richter Scale. Seven years later, on August 24, 2016, at 3:36 am local time, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Amatrice and its area. On October 26, 2016, October 30, 2016 and finally on January 24, 2017, the earth shook again shattering Amatrice, Capricchia, Norcia, Campotosto and the surrounding area. Italy is located on a seismic fault, and earthquakes are part of its history. However, each time a new earthquake hits, the country lives through this sort of natural disaster as if for the first time, leaving its people helpless and alone to face their fate. 

Campotosto, December 8, 2017. Campostoto is a village between L’Aquila and Amatrice hit by five different earthquakes on April 6, 2009, August 24, 2016, October 26, 2016, October 30, 2016 and finally January 24, 2017. A message on the wall reads “the forgotten crater”.

Located about 50 kilometres from each other, these disasters have killed nearly 600 people, injured thousands and displace more than 80,000. The victims lost their loved ones, their home or their job, often all three of these combined. The early rage gave way to bitterness and a sad dejection: all, public authorities, fellow citizens and the media, forget them. “Forgotten”, “abandoned”, “ignored”. Those words appear like a sad song on graffitis in the village of Campotosto and in the testimonies of Roberto in Capricchia, Giorgia in Fossa in the province of L’Aquila and all the people encountered in the field.

Campotosto, April 12, 2018. There is very little left of the town center.

Nowadays, the historic center of L’Aquila is still a succession of deserted streets, empty mailboxes and closed shutters. In the months following the earthquake, 65,000 people had to be relocated. In a hurry, then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the head of Civil Protection Guido Bertolaso built anti-seismic buildings outside the city of L’Aquila, called Project Houses (Progetto Case) and, for the neighbouring villages, small prefabs better known as MAP (Modulo Abitativo Provvisorio – Provisional Housing Module), completely leaving out – due to the emergency – the importance of rebuilding a social, economic and cultural base.

San Benedetto del Tronto, April 7, 2018. Some survivors still live in hotels on the coast. “After spending two years in a hotel, you lose a part of your independence. It is very difficult. It kind of kills of your brain cells,” explains Antidio, a resident of Arquata del Tronto who have not been able to return to his village or home yet.

The city of L’Aquila, now a dormitory town, is scattered. Its inhabitants live outside the historic center and therefore far core of the town. Amatrice and its surrounding villages, Campotosto, Arquata del Tronto, Norcia and the others are just an hour drive away. After the earthquakes of 2016 and 2017, this area faced the same issues due to relocation and reconstruction: these villages lost their soul by losing their social, economic and cultural strata.

Capricchia, December 13, 2017. Roberto in front of the prefabricated house built by the State.

The earthquake kills, destroys, crushes and razes to the ground. These destructions have had a considerable impact on the social relationships and the psychological health of the victims, as explained to us by Fabio in the kitchen of the wooden house he rebuilt for himself. “The social damages are especially devastating. They lead to jealousy, job loss, alcoholism and even suicide.” 

Amatrice August 23, 2017. Firefighter Lino, points to what is left of his family home. Every day, he takes the inhabitants of Amatrice back into the red zone to get their belongings. His family was relocated to a hotel on the Adriatic coast a few kilometres away.

From August 2017 to April 2018, I visited this region several times to document the post-earthquake period. This report aims at documenting the aftermath where the survivors are torn between staying and moving forward, or between moving away and starting from scratch. This wants to give a voice and a face to the people of this region so that these earthquakes are not only those of the “forgotten”.

About the author of this reportage:

Elena Fusco, is an Italian journalist and photographer living in Paris. She collaborates with AFP and her work has been published in several magazines like Journal du Dimanche, Sept, Inrocks or L’Obs. 

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