Literally as I started writing this, the house shook, ever so slightly. We've become "sensitized" to these movements over the past couple of months. Naturally the main earthquake events - the ones that make news - are the ones that become etched into memory, but it's the aftershocks that set one on edge, jumping at every little sound - a breeze blowing a door closed, glasses clinking in the dishwasher - and spawning an attitude of ultra-readiness, of permanent alertness, primed to go scarpering for the safety of the garden at a moment's notice.
When the whole house shook this past Sunday morning, waking us to full consciousness instantaneously, dreams, past, future all gave way to the immediate present, the now. Claudia Maria scrambled for the door to get outside, I hauled myself up into the well-reinforced window frame behind my pillow as the plaster rained down from the ceiling and the quake, barrelling loudly and vibrating like a speeding train, eventually petered out after about 15 seconds. The silence that followed was heavy, suggestive, eerie.
And in that moment, the terra firma contract of security was broken and replaced with uncertainty. The earth feels different now, at least in our minds, and the solid terrain that we took for granted as an unquestioned, grounded haven has developed a new side to its character - it most certainly lives. Sinister? Only if you want it to be. Unsettling? Indeed. Exhilarating? Unquestionably.
This new realization was both confirmed and emphasized in the half-hour after the Sunday morning quake with 7 shocks ranging from 4.0 to 4.6 in strength. After the initial 6.6 shake at 7:40am, during the rest of the day until midnight, we had a total of 16 aftershocks of 4.0-4.6 and 172 of 3.0-3.9 magnitude. All of the epicentres were in the area between Norcia in Umbria and Visso in Marche, a distance of about 30-40km from our house as the crow flies. Close enough.
Of course, Sunday's event came on the heels of last Wednesday evening's two quakes of 5.4 and 5.9, which struck just 2 hours apart, and were enough to shake us up considerably (pun intended). These caused enough damage in themselves - the mayor of Ussita (near the epicentres) said his village is "finished" - but it's the proximity in time of those two and the third big one on Sunday that has been most unsettling. And coming just 2 months after the 6.2 quake that levelled nearby Amatrice (amongst other villages) and killed some 300, one can imagine the population's sense of insecurity. This past Sunday both Claudia and I were left walking around in a dreamlike daze, as if we weren't quite present, and I uncharacteristically took several wrong turns on my way to & from watching Julius play rugby in Abruzzo, adding considerable time to an already-long journey.
But we've been fortunate. Our house has developed a number of hairline cracks, which aren't structural (we hope), but five of our good friends have had their houses declared uninhabitable - in several cases they can't even go inside, at least not without fireman. Along with thousands of others, they are now forced to find other accommodation. I read that 15,000 are now in temporary shelter organized by the civil defence authorities, and that excludes those, like our friends, who have found places on their own.
It's going to take years to recover from this. Towns like Visso, Preci, Castelsantangelo sul Nera, Castelluccio, Ussita, Norcia, Camerino are not only destroyed, most of them are deserted save emergency workers sifting through rubble. The University of Camerino has been closed indefinitely, and a friend from the town suspects that it won't be able to open again for at least 2 years. General restoration is likely to take closer to 10. Many of the people from those mountain villages have spent their entire lives there, as their parents and grandparents did, tending their vegetable patches and drinking their coffees in smoky conversation at the local Bar Centrale. Many have now been relocated to the Adriatic coast - yes, far from the threat of earthquakes, but even further way from the lives that they know. If we're in a daze, what state must these people be in, many of them in their sixties and older?
And it's not over yet, at least as far as the analysis and predictions foretell. These are new faults, or at least offshoots of the main fault lines that spawned the August quake. [More on this in a subsequent blog.] So we've taken to sleeping in our seismic-proof wooden cottage. For good reason too - this morning as we were having breakfast in the main house, we were hit by a 4.8 shake that sent us scurrying outside for safety. Small tremors have continued throughout the morning. Turns out that these epicentres are about 10km closer to us. Gulp...