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Being in Italy During the Recent Earthquakes

I grew up in California, so I have experienced my share of earthquakes, and while they have at times been a little anxiety-provoking, the only time I remember being "scared" was during and after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake when I lived in the Bay area. I was very lucky, and had no damage, never lost power, and the only casualty was a mug that broke when I opened a kitchen cabinet, and a Kahlua stain on my carpet from a decanter that fell off a dining room sideboard.

That said, I know that my home is less than 8 years old, built to earthquake standards, even though I live practically on the San Andreas fault. There are VERY few more-than-one story buildings in the desert. I guess I wouldn't want to be under a freeway overpass, but that isn't likely.

Our experience last month in Italy was different. The first May, 2012 earthquake struck on May 20. Seven lost their lives, and hardest hit were Mantua and Ferrara where industrial plants collapsed, churches, bell towers and a city hall collapsed or were severely damaged, and several historic buildings in Finale Emilia were destroyed. There are PAGES of photos of the destruction here.

We were in Venice on May 20, when shortly after 4 a.m., we woke up. I was very soundly asleep, thought Brad was "jumping on the bed". (No, he's never done that...), but I went back to sleep, hearing more details of the earthquake the next morning.

On May 23, we took a train from Venice to Bologna, where we would be for the next 8 days with our group of guests for Palmabella's Italy. In conversations all around us, we heard the word, "terremoto". Everyone was devastated by the damaged Parmigiano-Reggiano, a double loss of over 150 million euro worth of cheese (300,000 wheels), after the second earthquake.



On the morning of May 29, we were in a Parmigiano-Reggiano casificio. It was our group of 6, and about 30 college girls from North Carolina with their teachers. The girls were chatty, grumbling at being forced to tie back their long hair, and were clearly annoying our Italian English-speaking tour guide. She asked them to go outside if they wanted to talk, and stop covering their noses at the "cheesy smell". Hello! What did they think a building full of Parmigiano would smell like? Just goes to show, one person's "stinky" is another's "heavenly scent"!

By 9 a.m., we were (luckily) in a room with huge stainless steel vats of salted water, like standing around the edge of a huge metal, shallow "swimming pool" about 3 feet high, where the fresh cheeses are submerged into the salted water for a day. All of a sudden, the ground began shaking, the water was sloshing, and we knew it was an earthquake. My group had all experienced living in California, so we did what we always do...stand there, say, "It's an earthquake", and wait to for it to stop. The NC girls screamed, and tried to run out of the room. The shaking stopped and the plant manager calmly came in and said everything was OK, but he wanted us to wait outside for a few minutes. I thought of it as a smoke break, but was kind of glad we weren't standing under any 44 Kilo wheels of cheese!

In 10 minutes, we returned to our tour and entered the room with two story walls full of cheese on floor-to-ceiling shelves. The warehouse had been checked before we entered, and everything was safe, but we stood off to the side, and no one wandered down the aisles looking for a cheese made on their birthday, or other common photo opportunities. We left the dairy, and headed toward Modena.

At 11:30 a.m., my group was in the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. I had been to the museum last year, so as Brad and our guests wandered about, I went to the cafe for a latte and the big screen TV showing news of the morning's quake. !5 more deaths and footage of the latest crumbling buildings just a few kilometers away. At noon, they closed the museum, promising a refund on our credit card, and evacuating the building. I was especially sad for a group of 40 men from Uruguay, all dressed in red Ferrari clothes, shoes and hats, with huge shopping bags from the Ferrari shop who had come on a tour to DRIVE a Ferrari that afternoon. They were told there would be no driving that day, "Maybe tomorrow", and were scooted off to lunch with such sad faces!

Our next stop was Hosteria Giusti in central Modena. We entered, like a local, through the Salumeria. You walk behind the deli counter, down a short sloped hallway, past the kitchen and into the beautiful small dining room. There were 4 tables: ours for 6, one couple, a group of 4, and one empty table. We sat, got menus and water, when the ground began to shake AGAIN. There was no hesitation to get OUT of the building! I headed for the "real front door" , about 4 feet from me, when our waitress shouted, "No, come this way" in Italian. We ran through the little tunnel hallway, through the salumeria with giant swinging prosciuttos swaying over head, hundreds of rattling wine bottles, and swinging light fixtures. We stood out on the street, as did all the occupants of all the other businesses along this main street. The restaurant staff were visibly shaken and upset to the point of tears. The chef, cooks, owners and wait staff were beside themselves. We all waited for the shaking and swinging to stop, then felt a small aftershock. Enough was enough!

Usually in Italy, we are calmly and happily enjoying the scenery, the people in piazze, the food, wine or coffee, and the local daily happenings. We are not usually focused on what is ABOVE us. All heads were assessing buildings, towers, light fixtures, churches, and any potential hazards that could fall on us! It was really strange!

After 15 or 20 minutes, the restaurant staff asked us what we wanted to do. The group of 4, left (mid-meal) to go home. The couple, who had started their first course, returned, as did our group to our tables. We ordered lunch. (I think the staff would have preferred to close, but graciously took our orders.) I tried, in my limited Italian to calm our terrified waitress, saying this was "normale" in California. We enjoyed our lunch with no further incident (but were ready to bolt at the slightest tremor).

The next few days in Bologna were interesting, and very sad. Schools were closed, the locals were frightened, not sleeping, and earthquakes were the topic of almost ALL conversations. Those who worked at our hotel reported fear for themselves and family members. Other friends in Bologna also reported being "very anxious". Our hotel staff reported numerous cancellations in the days following the earthquakes, in an already slow year for tourism. Many are remembering the devastating 2009 L'Aquila quake with 300 deaths.


A week later, while we were in Le Marche, everyone was still talking about earthquakes. One gentleman said, "I fear we are next. Our neighbors, Umbria, Abruzzo, and now Emilia-Romagna have all had them. We may be next." On June 6, at 6:08 a.m., another 4.8 quake in Ravenna. Luckily, there was no damage or injuries. BASTA!

PLEASE help if you can! Join me in making a donation by credit card or paypal.

Italian Red Cross

Choose "Sisma Emilia Romagna". We pray that the people of Emilia-Romagna, and the rest of Italy will be safe, calm and have no more rumbling.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 21, 2012 5:23 AM.

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