NORCIA, Italy // Italy’s premier pledged on Monday to find temporary housing for more than 15,000 people made homeless by powerful earthquakes in a central mountainous region since August.
The strongest of the earthquakes struck the area on Sunday morning. The 6.6 magnitude earthquake caused no deaths or serious injuries largely because most fragile urban centres had already been closed because of previous damage and many homes had been vacated.
But it did complicate relief efforts in a zone that was still coping with the aftermath of an August quake that killed nearly 300, and a pair of powerful aftershocks last week that also claimed no lives.
Officials have said they expect the number of people needing assistance to continue to rise, as it does not include those who have slept in vehicles or made other arrangements and are likely to seek help. Temperatures in the area reached near freezing on Sunday night, and officials are concerned about the many elderly residents of these mountain communities.
“We cannot have tents for some months in the mountains, under the snow,” prime minister Matteo Renzi wrote in a message on Monday. “There are enough hotels for everyone. But many of our compatriots don’t want to leave their lands, not even for some weeks.”
Many people have been moved to coastal areas, where summer resort hotels are mostly vacant, and other zones away from the quake. But there are increasing reports of residents refusing to move in the belief that if their homes have survived so far, they remain the safest place to be.
In the town of Norcia, closest to the epicentre of Sunday’s tremor, firefighters were taking people back to their homes on monday to retrieve belongings. They were given helmets as protection, and taken in in small groups as they arrived. The ground continued to shake overnight with at least two jolts above magnitude 4.
“We were inside our home and luckily the house handled it,” said Emanuela Spanicciati, a resident of Norcia. “And that allowed us to get out into the streets. There were various injured people, but in the end we were lucky.”
Mr Renzi said the fact that there were no deaths “gives us enormous relief. But the damage to the housing stock, as well as economic, cultural and religious treasures is impressive. These villages are the identity of Italy. We must reconstruct them all, quickly and well.”
Many of the towns struck are of historic significance, including Norcia, where a 14th-century Benedictine cathedral collapsed, leaving just a facade.
* Associated Press