In time of grief and need, devastated Italian towns receive global support

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A resident helps a firefighter to set down a crucifix from San Lorenzo e Flaviano church following an earthquake in San Lorenzo, central Italy, August 26, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi - RTX2N7EN

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Three days after a powerful earthquake hit central Italy, the death toll has climbed higher to 281. Rescue operations have been called off in some parts, as hopes of finding survivors fades.

For an on-the-ground report, we turn to special correspondent Christopher Livesay in Amatrice. I spoke with him a short time ago.

Christopher, thanks for joining us.

The thing with earthquakes is, it’s not just one quake. What are the aftershocks you’re feeling?

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Well, everyone is on edge in the town of Amatrice, where I’m standing, but all over this region, they have been rippling throughout ever since the initial quake on Wednesday, all the way through just a few moments ago.

But the biggest one happened at about 6:30 this morning. It reached 4.8 on the Richter scale and it sent structures around Amatrice toppling to the ground, ones that were still standing. In fact, the last time I spoke to you, you might recall a church that was standing behind me.

We actually had to move to a different location because that church was deemed unstable and the bell tower could have toppled at any moment. That’s been the case for some roads leading into this town, also for a bridge that was a central pipeline.

As I was trying to get back into the city, I couldn’t get past a certain road because they were demolishing a hospital that was on the brink of collapse. So that’s making the rescue effort very difficult, but rescuers, when you talk to them, they will tell you that, at this point, three days into their efforts, they’re really not counting on finding anyone alive.

HARI SREENIVASAN: How significant is it, if that infrastructure starts to crumble or is deemed too unsafe to travel, that resources, like people, and goods and services are getting through those roads and bridges?

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Well, you would be surprised by the breadth of people who have come out to lend a hand. You hear accents from all over Italy, people from as far north of Milan and Venice, all the way to the tip of the toe of the Italian boot, shall we say.

But some volunteers come from even further afield. I spoke to a group of Israeli volunteers who are lending help as trauma therapists today. But then another, even more surprising group of people I spoke to, 50 volunteers, all of them migrants from Africa, when I asked them why they were doing this, they said, look, we’re here to help. In the same way Italy helped us in our time of need, we want to help as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Given the scale of all the buildings that have collapsed, who is responsible for rebuilding or in some of the cases the newer buildings, making sure that they didn’t fall in this earthquake?

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Well, there is sort of a reckoning that is taking place right now, a lot of soul-searching and some finger-pointing.

In fact, a couple of probes have been opened into some structures that toppled down that some people believe shouldn’t have. One in particular in the town of Accumoli, which is close to here, that church tower came tumbling to the ground. This was 10 years after an expensive restoration process took place on this church that should have made it earthquake-proof. That steeple that came crashing down killed a family of four people.

And so now people are trying to find out who’s responsible for that or if it’s just Mother Nature. Another example was a school in this town that came crashing down. That was a public building that, again, should have been built up to code and should have been retrofitted.

No matter how old these buildings are, the question is, can you make something earthquake-proof in a part of the country that’s seen seismic activity since time immemorial?

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Christopher Livesay joining us from Italy tonight, thanks so much.

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