Those stones were houses, their houses. Before 3,36 a.m. of 24th August 2016 there was a town over there, with its piazza, a vital community with their country fairs, their kitchen-gardens, their animals, their lands. Young people had fought to remain at Illica, a hamlet which is part of Accumoli, suffering from a depopulation process since the eighties. They created communes and cooperatives, worked the land, built stables and stockyards.
Now the achieved balance is lost: nature jolted and smashed them to the ground. When Sandra and Tonino got out from their collapsing house raised their eyes and saw just a cloud of dust covering their town. It wasn’t standing anymore.
Cooperative Rinascita ‘78 by Legacoop, on the contrary, was still standing there by miracle. Its sheds and white cows moving around on these lands, bought or rented over the time by giving up all the rest, were still there unharmed. But the house and the old Cardinal’s palace at Grisciano are condemned, the latter had been recently restored and destined to Rinascita’s business activities. Yet something most important has remained: the living hearth of the cooperative which bears its strength in its very name “Rinascita” (Revival). That’s why they didn’t leave. They thought the worst time was over. The community hadn’t yet finished mourning for their dead when it came back. Just five days before the new quake which disintegrated Accumoli forever, Sandra walked together with me amongst the rubble of Illica, through the red zone. She told me about the thousands of colours in Laga’s stones, about the dead and the survivors. She said: “Now it is to us to be watchmen”. In the meanwhile the mayor issued an evacuation order. But the animals can’t be left alone. Farmers in Accumoli and Amatrice demand temporary stables and housing modules. Feeds must be bought and loans deadlines must be met. Working doesn’t get them weary, especially at this moment. Sandra writes me today: “I’m staying without electricity and internet connection. House and palace are gone. If only I could leave. Just hope it won’t come back or I’ll go crazy”.
Text, pictures, video and editing by Angela Zurzolo email@example.com
Translated by Libero Bruno
1627. 1703. 1730. 1883. 2016. 2016. AND, AGAIN, 2016. – It’s back. It devastated Accumoli one more time, crushing central Italy’s hamlets and reducing their history to papier-mâché. But the earthquake didn’t get to tarnish people’s love towards nature, land and places. All the inhabitants have been removed to hotels in San Benedetto del Tronto after 15 days spent under the tents. Everybody wants to come back and watch over what they left behind in their homes. They take a shuttle bus everyday to get there, coming back to the hotels in the evening. They, who are the vital soul of the mountain, feel uprooted and transplanted among the people of the sea.
EVERYTHING’S LOST, EXCEPT FOR LIFE - An old man standing in front of the no-trespass-band girdling all around Grisciano, recalls that “In that night, while walking half-naked and barefoot on the rubble, we didn’t feel neither cold, nor fear, nor pain under our feet”.
142 SECONDS EARTHQUAKE AND 5 BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH - Luigi knows that sometimes there are just five seconds between life and death. Such a little time enabled him not to get squashed by the over 100kg reinforced concrete block which rests in his bed now. He was still up and managed to jump out of the window. He is however convinced that his son, who died 11 years before, saved him.
SHE LOST 99% OF WHAT SHE HAD Agata, bar owner at Grisciano doesn’t resign herself not to work. Therefore she keeps under guard the small wooden house which stood undamaged. Cooperative Rinascita’s old building had been shored up by the fire brigade but, once I got in, reaching the base of the spiral staircase, it was clear to me that it would have been impossible to keep it standing much longer. It collapsed following the last shock. Agata wants to come back and resume work so she stands in front of her bar all day long. The thought of the incoming taxes torments her.
MAYOR ORDERS EVACUATION OF THE AREA Accumoli’s mayor, Stefano Petrucci, ordered the evacuation of the entire area, after 26th and 31st October’s quakes which have destroyed the town. Animals must be fed, fodders must be bought, cows must be milked, and work must be continued.
ILLICA - “In this piece of the world” a road shield informs that “playing, jumping on the hay, climbing up the trees, roaring with laughter, getting dirty, playing with water and shouting with joy are not forbidden”. Now the entrance is guarded only by a bird-scarer. Amongst the rubble are still traces of a peasant and archaic society. In the role of wardens you can see just the co-operators.
AMONGST THE RUBBLE - Sandra and Tonino look at Illica standing on the threshold of their home where two dogs, two red-haired cats rescued amongst the rubble as well as a rabbit live now together.
RENTED OR BOUGHT: all pieces of land around here are of Rinascita’s co-operators. In the red zone there are also kitchen-gardens, graperies, and blackberry bushes: nature is thriving and in order. But all around it I see only gutted houses, crushed to the ground by their own roofs, demolished, brought to stones. You need to look into them and see pale yellow walls, chandeliers, knick-knacks to understand that people lived in there and five of them have died.
IT COULD NOT HAPPEN TWICE – It’s difficult to imagine the roar spreading along the valley at 3,36 a.m. on 24th August. It’s as unnatural as thinking about the noise of one’s bones breaking up abruptly. Five days before the new quake, which would have destroyed also what was still standing of Illica’s church throwing its saints around, Sandra used to go to Fido, living in a garden of the red zone, to bring it some food everyday. Luckily, a fireman adopted it and brought it away before new collapses occurred..
ON THAT MORNING IN AUGUST - Sandra and her husband have survived because that night they chose to come back to sleep in Illica leaving their mountain hut, next to the sheep’s folds. Their escape is hard to imagine. In that terrible moment they had to rush down the telescopic small ladders hanging from the ceiling and got down to the ground floor through a trapdoor. “We saw that white dust in the moonlight which lifted from the town. It was similar to fog. Our town was falling down in front of us. It was going literally into dust”. So Sandra recounts those frantic minutes. The thought that at least their animals, which where on grassland at that moment, remained unharmed, relieves her.
ANIMALS MUST BE FED “The real issue will be how to buy corn and also hay for the animals, having had a lower income compared to those from the previous years” She says. “The only activity which now we can rely on is cheese-making”. However, it has already snowed on the mountains and cold is intense. “We aren’t scared but now we live in a caravan here at Illica. Luckily we are accustomed to such a lifestyle because we were born and raised in the fifties at a time in which there were no toilets in our homes still” She explains. “We’re waiting with anxiety for containers and housing modules for the cattle-breeders”.
All around Illica, cows from the cooperative are free to graze. They eat apples found on the ground. Bunches of grapes shine in rows. Just outside the hamlet, a wooden house stands undamaged. “Its owner is more than one hundred years old – Sandra tells me -. He’s Illica’s longest-lived inhabitant at all. Fellow villagers were amazed at his choice to build such a simple house despite the fact he was wealthy. But he was right”. Little further we meet some villagers who came back from Rome to pick potatoes but they don’t have containers to stay in.
NO ALTERNATIVE Cooperative Rinascita owns hundreds head of cattle. Goats, sheep, cows, pigs. “Transforming all this into a sellable product implies a lot of sacrifices and often you can’t reach a balance between production and farming because of external factors” Tonino explains. He is cooperative’s chairman and prefers not to talk about what happened. He wants to think just about the future.
“Until now we always did well and I hope, even after this catastrophe, to look forward and rebuild what the earthquake destroyed. We are accustomed to live through difficulties” – He told - “We should deserve an easier life but we have to work hard instead. We have no alternative”.
HOUSE IS DESTROYED, ANIMALS REMAIN The house we see in the footage collapsed during the new earthquake which surprised them in October. Tonino said to me about his home: “There are no privately owned parts in this cooperative. Neither is the house, because everything is run by the cooperative. All our buildings were built through major investments and loans”. To those people, never was there a distinction between life, nature and work.
ILLICA’S WATCHMEN Tonino and Sandra are still there at Illica. With their animals. They hope earthquake won’t come back. But they just can’t go away. Sometimes they are plunged into despair, but soon after they come back to what they usually are: strong-tempered mountain dwellers used to face adversities. In this time they don’t need much to make a smile, as it presently the case was, because, they say, we have just found out electricity is back.