Italy has started to bury its dead following a devastating earthquake on Wednesday that killed at least 290 people and left whole towns in ruins. The country has declared Saturday a national day of mourning for the quake’s victims.
Reporting from a state funeral in the town of Ascoli Piceno, NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley described a community overcome with grief. She said the service was held in a gymnasium, where 35 caskets were laid out. “People cried and held each other,” Eleanor said.
Among those in attendance were Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
The earthquake struck Wednesday in the Apennine Mountains, an area that is a popular with tourists. And as we reported, the aftershocks have continued ever since, even as hopes fade that rescue crews will be able to find survivors of the powerful temblor.
As Eleanor reported, this is what the bishop said during the service:
“He told people not to be afraid to cry out their suffering. At the same time, he told them not to lose courage. He said that only together can we rebuild our houses and our churches and restore life to our communities. And then the bishop, he talked about the earthquake a lot. The terremoto. … He talked about nature. He said nature is wise, and we must commune with nature and not provoke it relentlessly.”
Prior to the funeral, Mattarella visited the town of Amatrice, which “bore the brunt of destruction with 230 fatalities,” as The Associated Press reported. Reporter Christopher Livsay told our Newscast unit that in Amatrice, a festival had been planned for today:
“It was supposed to be the day that the town of Amatrice was going to hold the 50th annual festival of its famous pasta dish, bucatini all’ Amatriciana. Amatrice was at the epicenter of the earthquake. Chefs around the world are putting the dish on their menus and donating the proceeds to the victims of the quake.”
As Livsay explained, festivals this this one are a major tourism draw, and area towns in the area “easily double or quadruple” during the summer months. Many foreigners are among the dead, he reported.
At the state funeral in Ascoli Piceno, mourners overflowed from the packed gymnasium to a nearby church, while some sat under the shade of an olive tree and watched the service on screens, as Eleanor reported.
Mourner Raphaela Baiocchi told Eleanor that “we are participating, all our pain for our population. And it’s not the first time for our people.” She added: “Italy is a very beautiful and dangerous place. And so we are here to share the pain today, then we will speak about other things.”
Things like justice, she told Eleanor. “There’s a growing anger about the construction of some of the buildings that collapsed,” Eleanor says. Here’s more:
“Granted, many are medieval but there are earthquake codes that need to be followed. For example, one bell tower rebuilt ten years ago collapsed and killed a family. And the Italian prosecutor in charge of the quake investigation said what happened can’t simply be chalked up to nature. He said if buildings had been built like they are in Japan, they would not have collapsed.”