My 3 year-old son had crawled in my bed earlier and for a moment I thought it was him. But no, he was asleep. All this did not happen in a split second. My reactions were slow. My senses and mind were blurry from deep sleep and it took me a moment to realize we were in the middle of a very strong earthquake. This went on for several long seconds. I held my child's hand as he snored blissfully, maybe just to reassure him that it was all OK. Although something made me understand that it was not.
Mainly the noise.
The noise of the earthquake is horrible. Just writing about it sends a chill down my spine. It's like a giant and grotesque earth-belch. An insult coming from a deep and dark place beneath.
I looked over at the clock and tried a mnemonic trick to remind myself of the hour. "I'll have to check the news tomorrow, 3:32 a.m.
The tremor ended, and I just lay there in silence, in the dark, watching the outline of the paper lantern swaying over my head. The noise subsided, and in its place a concert of car alarms and dogs barking. I didn't hear people in our apartment building run down the stairs, voices or other doors opening, so I quietly waited, listening to my heartbeat slow down, hypnotized by the decreasing sway of the overhead light fixture.
My son and I live in a small flat on the second floor of a 7-storey apartment building, and the shock was very strong, even for Rome. Even for me. The strongest I have ever felt, compared to the million California daily mini-tremors and the devastating 1980 Irpinia one I experienced in the past. I have a terrible fear of earthquakes. Despite that, I slowly regained courage and forced myself to sleep. The following morning I learned that the epicenter was only 60 miles away.
The 6.3 Richter scale tremor lasted an endless 35 seconds and killed 308 people, wounding thousands. Seventy thousand people lost their homes and many had to be permanently relocated in tented camps. Some live in newly built homes, but for the most part many of L'Aquila residents have not been able to return to live in their city.
I worked in Abruzzo for 4 months in 2010, and by interacting with the population I learned of the destruction and horrible consequences brought by the earthquake long after the shakes ended.
In Abruzzo, the rubble and distorted metal frames that once were homes, restaurants, schools, offices––the debris of a past life––still crowds the big cities and the small towns to this day. As I walked among the ruins every day, helpless, I breathed in the solidarity and felt the population's proudness, but also was overwhelmed by the Abruzzesi's desperation and suffering. I learned that more than 50 survivors commited suicide, because their families and homes didn't exist anymore. I learned that until very recently, folks were still living out of containers and port-a-potties. Mostly, I learned that when you deprive a human being of his home, of his roots – you bare that person, defacing him.
At 3:32 a.m. tonight, a candle light vigil crowd will very silently march in the closed off "red zone" of L'Aquila. The bells will strike 308 tolls and the name of each one of the victims of the April 2009 earthquake will be called out in the night. A mournful celebration of a night that has tainted the history and territory of Abruzzo forever.
My prayers and heartfelt compassion goes out to them, both the victims and the survivors. The brave, frustrated, strong and noble Abruzzesi are not forgotten. Not forgotten.