Powerful quake spares lives, but strikes at Italy’s identity


Associated Press

NORCIA, ITALY

The third powerful earthquake to hit Italy in two months spared human life Sunday but struck at the nation’s identity, destroying a Benedictine cathedral, a medieval tower and other beloved landmarks that had survived the earlier jolts across a mountainous region of small historic towns.

Lost or severely damaged in the shaking were ancient Roman walls, Gothic and Baroque churches and centuries-old paintings crushed beneath tons of brick, sandstone and marble.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said the nation’s “soul is disturbed” by the series of quakes, starting with the deadly Aug. 24 event that killed nearly 300 people, two back-to-back temblors Wednesday, and the biggest of them all, a 6.6-magnitude quake that shook people out of bed Sunday morning. It was the strongest quake to hit Italy in 36 years.

There were no reports of fatalities – a fact attributed to the evacuation of sensitive areas and fragile city centers. Nearly 8,000 people have been moved to shelters or hotels after the quakes last week and Sunday, and Italy’s Civil Protection agency was expecting that number to reach 11,000 by this morning. Many who stayed behind were sleeping in campers or other vehicles, out of harm’s way.

Renzi vowed to rebuild houses, churches and business, saying, “a piece of Italian identity is at stake at this moment.”

The worst damage was reported in Norcia, a town in Umbria closest to the epicenter. Two churches were destroyed – the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict, built on the traditional birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monastic order; and the Cathedral of St. Mary Argentea, known for its 15th-century frescoes.

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