by Giovanni Zambello and Lucrezia Martinelli
A magnitude-5.9 earthquake struck north-eastern Italy early in the morning of Sunday 20 May, killing at least seven people, injuring 50 and toppling several buildings. The quake struck at 4:04 am between Modena and Mantua, about 35 kilometres north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of five kilometres. The epicentre was between the towns of Finale Emilia, San Felice sul Panaro and Sermide, but was felt as far away as Tuscany and northern Alto Adige.
According to seismologists, the earthquake was the strongest to hit the region since the one that shook the town of L’Aquila in 2009. The initial quake was followed by a 5.1- magnitude aftershock one hour later. By the end of the day 75 aftershocks had been registered.
The Italian Red Cross responded immediately, activating the National Operations Room in Legnano (Milan), which is coordinating relief efforts, and the Regional Operations Room in Emilia Romagna, as well as the Provincial Rooms on the territory.
In the early hours of dawn, the Red Cross branches in Ferrara, Modena, Reggio Emilia and Bologna were mobilized, with some 177 volunteers at work, 27 vehicles (25 ambulances and six vehicles for the transportation of materials to the site), and 12 pneumatic tents that are sheltering the affected people.
“We were able to take prompt action immediately after the quake,” says Gabriele Mantovani, Red Cross volunteer and coordinator of the Red Cross Ambulance Service in Finale Emilia. “At 4.27am, thanks to a group of six volunteers who made themselves readily available, our system was already up to speed.” After 40 hours, Gabriele is still working non-stop, as tireless as other volunteers who yesterday have worked by his side in an extraordinary effort to assist the people affected by the earthquake.
The Italian Red Cross is currently managing nine reception centres in the provinces of Modena, Ferrara and Mantova, with a total capacity of 620 beds, and is providing direct support to some 300 affected people, with services ranging from evacuation and transport, to shelter, health care and logistics, distribution of meals and basic necessities, psycho-social support, monitoring and census of reception centres, and support in reception centres set up by local authorities of affected municipalities. Seven field kitchens, with different capacities, are also on stand-by, in case of a need for more meal distribution. Two advanced medical posts have also been deployed to provide 24/7 first aid services to those in need.
Red Cross staff in the National Operations Room are now constantly monitoring the worst-affected region of Emilia Romagna, as well the other regions that have been affected to a lesser extent, such as Lombardy (where, in the province of Mantova, the Red Cross has opened a reception centre for 250 people) and Veneto, where no damage has been reported.
“Sunday has been a very intense day. I was especially struck by the calm of the civilian population who responded showing great feelings of solidarity and union. Panic was on the faces of elderly people who would not leave their houses, despite having suffered fractures and various traumas. In these cases,” says Gabriele “it took a lot of patience to convince them that there was nothing else we do: they were injured and their homes had become uninhabitable.”