In L'Aquila, little enthusiasm for G8 talks

L’AQUILA, Italy — A new arrival in any of the tent villages that pepper the landscape surrounding this earthquake-stricken city quickly attracts a small crowd.

Most of the estimated 60,000 area residents left homeless by the April 6 earthquake are still camping outdoors more than three months later, as the Group of Eight Summit begins here. After an initial flurry of interest from aid groups and media, the residents are mostly left alone. The days blend together, many say.

"You’re staying near here?" 34-year-old Tiziana Alfonsi asks me after several minutes of talking about life in a tent. “Are you staying in an apartment?”

Yes, an apartment.

“I’d be too scared to stay inside,” she says, shaking her head. She’s been living in a small tent enclave just outside the crumbling apartment building where she lived up until the earthquake. When she needs something from inside she timidly sneaks back in but gets out as quickly as possible. “Anyone who went through what we went through would be scared to sleep with a roof above their head.”

But the apartment I'm staying in survived the earthquake. It still seems to be in pretty good shape.

“Ours was, too,” she replies. “It survived every earthquake up until the big one.”

Alfonsi, like thousands of other people in the area, has little choice but to be philosophical about her situation. At least half a dozen significant aftershocks have shook the area since April, and local residents still sleeping indoors have taken to leaving the doors unlocked to make it easier to flee. Some small business owners have re-opened on small tables set up in front of the rubble of their former workplaces. People shrug when asked about the money lost when their homes or businesses collapsed in a dusty heap.

While local residents worry about rebuilding their cities, homes and businesses, the G8 summit gathers leaders of the world's industrialized countries nearby to worry about the global economy. Forty heads of state traveled to L’Aquila for three days of meetings beginning July 8. Security helicopters have been buzzing around the skies above the city for days, and the highways leading to the city show a highly visible police presence.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to move the summit to L’Aquila just after the deadly tremor, both to call attention to the city’s plight and to redirect the tens of millions of euros needed to prepare any site for a meeting on the scale of the G8 to an area badly in need of it.

But few in the area seem to be enthusiastic about the presence of the talks. The investments yielded a new one-runway airport, an upgrade to the local hospital, and temporary jobs for a few hundred locals working on low-end summit tasks, like directing traffic in parking lots or driving shuttle buses. But most comments range from those who say that the summit has had little impact on their day-to-day lives to an apparent majority that criticizes the spending on buildings and roads that will serve little purpose once the talks conclude.

“They keep talking about repairing housing or building new housing but nothing has been done,” said Oscar Rossi, 54, who lives in a rustic lean-to standing adjacent to the closed-down auto repair shop where he worked before the earthquake. “In the meantime, they build huge new temporary structures that will be gone a few days from now. They made a road to an area where nobody will ever go unless they want to see the new parking lot next to the land where a temporary building used to be.”

The biggest concern voiced by residents interviewed is that after the summit concludes they will be left in a void. The economy of the area is a shambles, and the once-stunning historical center of the medieval city is completely closed off, meaning even residents cannot return without an escort from the civil defense force that patrols damaged areas. Evidence of the earthquake in the form of collapsed buildings, crushed shells of automobiles, or wide cracks traced along building walls is hard to avoid, but, so far, most reconstruction plans have remained on the drawing boards for a lack of funds and manpower.

“People continue to talk about L’Aquila because of the G8,” says Gina Tenzi, a 63-year-old office clerk who has lived her whole life in L’Aquila. Her home survived the earthquake but she worries about the others, especially once the mountain air turns cold in a few weeks. “The attention from the G8 hasn’t helped much yet, but I worry that once the talks are over that even that will end and we’ll just be forgotten.”

Read more about L'Aquila:

Italians rush to help L'Aquila after earthquake

Emotional aftershocks in Italy