Italy Earthquake Response Praised for Efficiency

In a country where chaos normally reigns, the emergency response to Italy's earthquake was applauded by even the most devastated survivors. Soldiers, rescue personnel and civilians moved swiftly and efficiently to extricate survivors and victims after the worst quake to hit the country in 30 years. (Story continued below...)

There's much work left to be done. Medieval Italian hilltop towns do not fall gracefully. Piles of ancient stones, heads from statues and marble pillar fragments are all part of the debris scattered on top of cars and along the narrow streets here in L'Aquila.

Less than 24 hours after the quake struck, 150 people have been confirmed dead and another 250 are reported missing. Officials say 50,000 people are homeless and nearly 15,000 buildings have been damaged in central Italy.

Immediately after the quake struck, the military was dispatched to lay out logistical plans and shore up infrastructures like bridges and overpasses. Then civil-protection workers and firefighters worked alongside policemen and neighbors to dig through the rubble in search of survivors, relying on local residents to tell who and how many people lived in each area. Lists were created and the numbers of missing and dead were dispatched to regional officials.

Within hours of the quake, blankets, water and biscuits were being handed out and those who had lost their homes or were too nervous to return were guided to a tent camp in a nearby stadium. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dispatched 5,000 additional rescue workers from neighboring towns and cancelled a trip to Russia to fly to the epicenter. "I want to say something important," he said at a press conference in L'Aquilia. "No one will be abandoned to their fate."

The villages of Castelnuovo, Poggio Picenze, Tormintarte, Fossa, Totani and Villa Sant'Angelo have been especially damaged. The entire hamlet of Onno, population 300, is gone. By Monday night, one third of its residents had not been accounted for.

As a spring rain shower drenched the quake area late Monday afternoon, workers quickly erected makeshift tents and handed out plastic bags as raincoats. Tent camps to accommodate 20,000 people have been set up in local stadiums for those still waiting to hear about loved ones. Many of the new homeless have been moved to hotels in neighboring communities where 4,000 rooms have been set aside. Buses were lined up along the city streets to transport residents to nearby towns where residents opened their homes.

"We will work for the next 48 hours without any stop, because we have to save lives," said Francesco Rocca, the head of Italy's Red Cross, on Monday afternoon. "Hundreds of people could still be alive under the buildings."

Even if the rescue efforts are running smoothly, the grief and devastation is almost unbearable. Crying neighbors gathered in front of a house along L'Aquila's main street, where a woman named Nadia perished along with her daughter and granddaughter. Before each victim was pulled from the rubble, massive trucks and ambulances were positioned to shield the view of the bodies being transported to ambulances. "You can film the broken buildings so they send more help," cried an elderly man who pleaded with camera crews not to film the deceased. "But please leave us to our broken hearts."

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