Rescue workers using bare hands and buckets searched frantically for students believed buried in a wrecked dormitory after Italy’s deadliest quake in nearly three decades struck this medieval city before dawn Monday, killing 275 people, injuring 1,500 and leaving tens of thousands homeless. The 6.3-magnitude earthquake buckled both ancient and modern buildings in and around L’Aquila, snuggled in a valley surrounded by the snowcapped Apennines’ tallest peaks….
Rescue workers using bare hands and buckets searched frantically for students believed buried in a wrecked dormitory after Italy’s deadliest quake in nearly three decades struck this medieval city before dawn Monday, killing 275 people, injuring 1,500 and leaving tens of thousands homeless. The 6.3-magnitude earthquake buckled both ancient and modern buildings in and around L’Aquila, snuggled in a valley surrounded by the snowcapped Apennines’ tallest peaks.
It also took a severe toll on the centuries-old castles and churches in the mountain stronghold dating from the Middle Ages, and the Culture Ministry drew up a list of landmarks that were damaged, including collapsed bell towers and cupolas. The quake, centered near L’Aquila about 70 miles northeast of Rome, struck at 3:22 a.m., followed by more than a dozen aftershocks.
Firefighters with dogs and a crane worked feverishly to reach people trapped in fallen buildings, including a dormitory of the University of L’Aquila where a half- dozen students were believed trapped inside.
Some 10,000 to 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed, officials said. L’Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente said about 100,000 people were homeless. It was not clear if his estimate included surrounding towns.
The quake hit 26 towns and cities around L’Aquila. Castelnuovo, a hamlet of about 300 people southeast of L’Aquila, appeared hard hit with five confirmed dead. The town of Onno, population 250, was almost leveled.
The four-star, 133-room Hotel Duca degli Abruzzi in L’Aquila’s historic center was heavily damaged but still standing, said Ornella De Luca of the national civil protection agency in Rome. Though not a major tourist destination like Rome, Venice or Florence, L’Aquila boasts ancient fortifications and tombs of saints.
Many Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance landmarks were damaged, including part of the red-and-white stone basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio. The church houses the tomb of its founder, Pope Celestine V – a 13th-century hermit and saint who was the only pontiff to resign from the post.
The bell tower of the 16th-century San Bernardino church and the cupola of the Baroque Sant’Agostino church also fell, the ministry said. Stones tumbled down from the city’s cathedral, which was rebuilt after a 1703 earthquake. "The damage is more serious than we can imagine," said Giuseppe Proietti, a Culture Ministry official. "The historic center of L’Aquila has been devastated." The city’s own cultural offices, housed in a 16th-century Spanish castle, were shut down by damage, Proietti said. The damaged fortifications, once perfectly preserved, are also home to a museum of archaeology and art.
L’Aquila, whose name means "The Eagle" in Italian, was built around 1240 by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and was under French, Spanish and papal domination during the centuries. The high-flying bird was both the emblem of Frederick and reflects the 2,300-foot altitude of the proud city.
Proietti said in a telephone interview that reports from the countryside showed many villages around L’Aquila had been heavily damaged, including churches "of great historical interest."
Damage to monuments was reported as far as Rome, with minor cracks at the thermal baths built in the 3rd century by Emperor Caracalla, he said.