At 3.32am on the morning of Monday, April 6, 2009, an earthquake of 5.8 on the Richter scale rocked central Italy. The shocks were felt as far as Rome and Campania, but the epicentre was L’Aquila, the regional capital of Abruzzo. Built on the bed of an ancient lake, the geological structure of the terrain amplified the seismic waves.

The city has a history of earthquakes, the worst being in 1703 when 5000 people were killed, and the city virtually flattened. This time, thousands of buildings in the city were badly damaged, and some surrounding villages were pretty much destroyed. However, nearby medieval hill-villages survived almost untouched, and it was clear in the aftermath that much of the damage and many of the deaths were due to shoddy building standards. In all, 308 people died, and over 65,000 were made homeless; 40,000 people were evacuated to tented camps, prompting Prime Minister Berlusconi to make his infamous comment that the earthquake victims should cheer up and consider themselves on a camping weekend.

Despite the funds that poured in after the earthquake to help with the reconstruction, the recovery project is at a standstill: much of L’Aquila’s centro storico remains out of bounds to the public, many of its residents are still in temporary housing, and, according to a recent investigation by the newspaper La Repubblica, only five percent of the damage has been repaired. The townspeople haven’t abandoned hope, however, setting in place a number of grass-roots initiatives that are perhaps L’Aquila’s best chance of salvation.

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