Italy’s twin quakes demolish churches, destroy cultural heritage

Rome, Oct 27 (IANS) The two strong earthquakes that hit central Italy have left the village of Norcia in tatters. Several historic churches in the village were destroyed.

The roof of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a 16th century church in the village that had been recently restored, completely caved in and its collapsed decorative ceiling could only be seen from outside, Efe news reported.

Half of the marble plaques on the building’s facade fell and lay crumbling in chunks and shards on the ground. Though its modest rose window and austere baroque door frame were saved, the metal cross that crowned the church collapsed during the earthquake on Wednesday night and lay twisted amid the debris.

It was “miraculous” no deaths had been reported, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

Two powerful earthquakes — the first measuring 5.5 on the Richter and the second 6.1 — on Wednesday struck central Italy about 50 miles north of the site of a deadly August quake that killed nearly 300 people.

The San Salvatore church was hit even harder by the temblor. When asked where it was, residents simply said it did not exist anymore.

The central nave and ceiling of the church collapsed and the only parts still standing are the facades of the lateral naves.

The Archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia Renato Boccardo lamented the grave wound that the town’s art and faith heritage had suffered.

Mild aftershocks continued to hit the region, but residents bravely returned to their homes on Thursday morning to try and collect personal belongings and start rebuilding their lives.

According to initial estimates by the mayors of the towns affected, thousands of people were forced to abandon their homes due to damages to buildings and fear of further tremors.

The epicentre of both tremors was registered in the Valnerina valley, a mountainous area between the cities of Macerata and Perugia.

Some were injured and one man reportedly died of a heart attack, while buildings sustained damages.

People were already out on the streets when the second, a more powerful 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit, limiting injuries.