Travel

A Night with the Rescue Teams Looking for Survivors of Italy's Earthquake

The town of Amatrice has been reduced to rubble.

by Alessandro Iovino
Aug 26 2016, 2:10pm

During the nightly rescue operations following the earthquake that hit central Italy on Wednesday night, the small town of Amatrice experienced several aftershocks. All photos by Alessandro Iovino / Cesura

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This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.

The earthquake that hit the center of Italy early Wednesday morning has so far claimed 241 lives, while 264 people are injured. Rescue operations in and around Amatrice are still in progress. The small town is tucked away in the mountains and has been reduced to a pile of rubble after the earthquake.

The only way to get there or to leave is with a minibus from Civil Protection—the national body coordinating rescue operations. Every bus is packed with rescuers and journalists and drops them off at a spot about half a mile outside of the town—driving any farther isn't safe.

Injuries are treated in field hospitals nearby, while people who need more care are brought to hospitals in Rieti, Norcia, or Rome—43, 34, and 87 miles away respectively. The fact that the town is so hard to reach explains why rescue teams were so late in the initial aftermath of the earthquake.

When I arrived in Amatrice at 7 PM on Wednesday, policemen, firemen, soldiers, and Civil Protection units were digging in the rubble and trying to coordinate the operation. Rescuers have come from all over the country: I met Red Cross volunteers from Rome, firefighters from Milan, and civilians who were trying to help the best they could while being kept at a safe distance. Rescue operations continued throughout the night, while the stadium—the only spacious structure still standing in Amatrice—was turned into a makeshift camp. Those camps provided temporary shelter to people who just lost their homes, or were waiting to hear if their loved ones were still alive.

I stayed with the rescue teams in Amatrice until dawn the next day.

The majority of the victims are from Amatrice—a town of about 2,650 people before the earthquake hit. Only the newest buildings and the stadium are still standing.

Volunteers from all around Italy have headed to Amatrice.

Civil Protection units turned the football field in front of the stadium into a camp. It provides shelter to up to 300 people, as does the stadium itself.

There are more makeshift camps in Sant'Angelo (a suburb of Amatrice) and Accumoli—and more are being set up in the area. These only house people waiting for news about their missing loved ones.

Rescue operations are mainly carried out with dog units. Reporters and civilians are kept at distance from the excavation for safety reasons and to avoid distracting the dogs. A few moments after I shot this picture, a woman was pulled out alive from the rubble.

Army units have come with diggers and tanks. The presence of soldiers prevents the looting of abandoned homes—along with the fact that there are still aftershocks in the area.

Amatrice is essentially deserted aside from the rescue teams—the only civilians walking around are those looking for their loved ones. Near this building, I met two brothers who had both survived the collapse of their home, but were looking for their mother.

A civilian helicopter pilot in Amatrice

A tented camp from the outside. People from neighboring areas sent basic goods, blankets, diapers, and other useful things.

A collapsed house in Amatrice