Faith-based and civil relief groups are providing aid to more than 4,000 victims left homeless by an earthquake that struck the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna on May 20, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens.
The Italian news agency ANSA said a number of historic churches and castles were destroyed or damaged by the quake, which measured 5.9 on the Richter scale, and its aftershocks.
“We’re close to the people in prayer and in particular the families of the victims. We will support the local church in providing aid,” said Don Francesco Soddu, director of Caritas Italy, part of an international Catholic aid network. The Italian Red Cross was also responding.
Soddu discussed the response including the provision of shelter and first aid, with local staff of the aid group, including the directors of Caritas Emilia-Romagna, Modena and Bologna and Archbishop Paolo Rabitti of Ferrara-Comacchio, according to a statement from Caritas International.
Reuters reported that the small town of San Felice sul Panaro saw its three main churches reduced to ruins and in nearby Mirandola, the roof of the cathedral collapsed. Clergy expressed relief, however, that the quake struck in the early morning hours, rather than later in the day when worshippers would have been in the buildings.
Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the victims as he ended his midday appointment on May 20 in St. Peter’s Square. “We implore God’s mercy for those who have died,” he said “and relief from suffering for the injured,” he said, according to Vatican media reports.
Since the initial earthquake struck, there have been over 20 aftershocks of varying strengths, according to Doriano Castaldini, a professor of physical geography and geomorphology at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, and a local expert on earthquakes living in San Filippo, one of the earthquake-struck villages.
Castaldini told the Geneva-based UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) office that the quake was the largest recorded in the region since 1570.
“The residents of San Filippo are forbidden to go inside their homes up to now. Everybody is a refugee,” he noted.