Wednesday, April 8

Feelin' the Earth Move Under My Feet

All of us are still reeling from the quakes felt all the way to Rome and from the horrific images of the damage done to one of the most pristine and picturesque places in Italy. The rescue and mobilization of volunteers and squads from nearly all of Italy was exceptional – the response was immediate, well-organized, and all those affected who could, pitched in to pull people from the rubble. I even saw pictures of Spanish rescuers with dogs searching for survivors. Teams of national guards are busy assuring that looting was at a minimum (besides, there was little left to loot) and the idiots who sent out an sms warning of future quakes to lure people from their homes will be met with more severe sentences than ever. In short, the coordination of departments, the exodus into nearby hotels, and the treatment of patients in field tents all went like clockwork.

But, no sooner have the aftershocks stopped than investigations have been called. The biggest question remains -- Why did the more recent constructions collapse like a house of cards? The answer usually lays with corrupt builders and city officials with greased palms and blind eyes. But, it could simply be that the force of the quake was simply too great for any building to hold up under.

The second story to make the rounds is of the supposed seismologist who predicted an imminent earthquake, until being trounced by pretty much every other scientist, technician, engineer and media advisor on the airwaves. This guy, it turns out, is the Italian cousin of Joe the Plumber - not truly a seismologist, he sounded the alert weeks ago, based on radon gases he was finding. He was unceremoniously jailed for his efforts.
A reality check: If we could predict earthquakes, everyone from Tokyo to Tahoe would sleep easily at night (well, they do anyway, but that’s besides the point). The best scientists in Japan and the USA can’t call ‘em, and neither can a hobbyist from the Abruzzo mountains.

But – and you’ve read it here first (and at the risk of being jailed for sounding a false alarm) -- the biggest – and heretofore – still unmentioned repercussion of this quake is the arrival of every sort of malady stemming from Asbestos. Every building in Abruzzo (and much of Italy for that matter), from schools to hospitals to households is made with asbestos in the roofs. Those apocalyptic scenes of entire blocks reduced to rubble are all the more scary because the entire area has been blanketed in the stuff. After the earthquake demolished my family’s Abruzzo town in 1985, I was told NOT to replace the roof, but to seal it so the asbestos could never get out. Lifting the roof off would have released a Pandora’s box. Just like the Twin Towers workers, we’ll be hearing about the effects in a few years’ time.

In the meantime, we get to look forward to an inordinate amount of corruption in contract procurement and the relative urban sprawl while the region rebuilds -- already Berlusconi has tipped his cards, on his idea to build 'new towns' thereby destroying the charm and countryside of what is left of the Aquila countryside. To get a picture of the future, just take one look at Perugia in the years since the Assisi earthquake.

You can send donations through the Italian Red Cross. Probably a fairly safe bet for your funds.

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