[There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All this is only the beginning of the birth pangs.
NORCIA, Italy — Over centuries, residents of this Umbrian city and its environs have grown accustomed to the ragged tempo of earthquakes in the mountainous region. Resilience is a point of local pride. But the quake that struck on Oct. 30, the strongest to hit Italy in 36 years, was drastically different. As Mayor Nicola Alemanno of Norcia put it, some quakes are “cataclysms that generate catastrophes.”
Ancient buildings collapsed. Families who had lived in stone houses for generations were left homeless. In Norcia, the quake forced a mass evacuation and destroyed the basilica of St. Benedict, pictured above, as well as towns in the Marche region, like Visso, below.
The Oct. 30 quake was catastrophic, but hardly a one-off event. Since Aug. 24, the broader area has endured some 28,500 earthquakes and aftershocks, with at least 47 above 4.0 magnitude. Some have cracked buildings; some have merely rattled dishes in cupboards. Others have not been felt at all. But every day the earth is still moving.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged to rebuild dozens of stricken towns “as they were,” but first temporary housing must be built for the thousands who have remained homeless in villages like San Pellegrino di Norcia, below.
Thousands of residents of evacuated towns have been moved to hotels on Italy’s Adriatic coast and in towns inland. But many have refused to leave. Older people, whose families have lived here for generations, are afraid they won’t return. Farmers refuse to abandon their livestock. Many towns have set up makeshift camps in sports centers like one, below, in the Marche community of Cessapalombo.
The main square of Visso shows fresh scars from the earthquake. While countless churches in the area were destroyed, many palazzos remained standing. But centuries of renewals and renovations with different construction materials weakened some buildings. One can stand intact beside another that has crumbled.
The 16th-century church of Santa Maria della Cona, below, was just a small sanctuary near San Pellegrino di Norcia before being severely damaged in the earthquake, said the Rev. Marco Rufini, a priest in Norcia, where 12 churches were destroyed. “Churches are more difficult to defend,” he said, because of their structures and, some say, because retrofitting them to better withstand earthquakes could be limited by laws protecting their artistic value.
When ancient churches collapse, the antiquities inside are also at risk. Italy’s military police, the Carabinieri, have a specialized art squad that worked alongside firefighters to empty historical palazzos and churches in the area of their artwork. The crucifix below was removed in Norcia and will be stored with other artwork in a nearby warehouse where damaged artifacts will be repaired.
Farmers have also struggled in the aftermath. Cesare Onori, in San Pellegrino di Norcia, has 45 cows living under a rickety roof. The structure is dangerous, he said, but until the government sends prefabricated barns to the area, it will have to do.
This should be a time of pleasure in Umbria. It is a popular tourist region, famed for its art, food and stunning, ancient vistas, like that overlooking the village of Poggio Primocaso. But hotels have registered countless cancellations, even in areas unaffected by the earthquake.
Tourism is Norcia’s livelihood, said the Rev. Benedict Nivakoff of the monastery of St. Benedict here. “If they lose that, they don’t know how they’re going to live.”