AMATRICE, Italy — Sniffer dogs, earthmovers and other heavy equipment are arriving to the zone of Italy where a 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck early Wednesday morning, to help with the rescue effort and provide for those left homeless.
Latest counts are that 73 people were killed, scores more trapped under rubble and at least a thousand displaced. Tent cities and kitchens were being set up in and around the major towns hit by the quake.
More than 12 hours after the quake struck, a slow procession of earth-moving vehicles loaded on the beds of firetrucks made their way to the edge of the hard-hit hilltop city Amatrice.
Rescue teams poured in from nearby regions: spelologists from Umbria, Alpine rescue experts from Abruzzo and canine units from elsewhere in Italy.
Italy’s civil protection agency is coordinating the rescue, and even the Vatican has sent a rescue crew to the quake zone to help with recovery efforts.
The Vatican press office said a six-man team from the Vatican City State’s fire squad went to Amatrice early Wednesday. A statement said the decision was taken as a “sign of the pope’s concrete proximity to the people affected by the quake.”
Pope Francis scrapped his usual Wednesday catechism lesson for pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to lead the faithful instead in reciting the rosary prayer for the victims.
A geologist in Poland says that the magnitude 6 earthquake in central Italy was caused by the slow but constant under-surface movement of the African Plate toward Europe.
Jerzy Zaba of the Silesian University in Katowice, in southern Poland, said Wednesday that a wedge-shaped front of the African Plate is pressing into the Eurasian Plate in the Adriatic Sea region and pushes into the neighboring regions, like Italy’s Apennine Mountains. The tension that accumulates leads to a sudden release in the form of under-surface rock movement that causes earth tremors.
Zaba told Polish PAP agency that the African Plate is moving northwards at the speed of up to 5 centimeters (2 inches) a year.
A resident of the hamlet of Illica, north of hard-hit Amatrice, reached for a literary reference to describe the scene after the earthquake hit.
Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica, said: “We came out to the piazza, and it looked like ‘Dante’s Inferno.’ People crying for help, help. Rescue workers arrived after one hour… one and a half hours.”
The quake-hit Italian city of Amatrice is famed as the birthplace of one of the most famous Roman dishes: spaghetti all’amatriciana, a hearty dish of pasta made with bacon-like bits of cured pork jowl, pecorino cheese and tomato.
Amatrice, in fact, was due to have its annual festival honoring its namesake food on Aug. 27-28 in the historic center now rendered to rubble.
Legend has it that the amatriciana sauce was originally prepared only with the pork — known as guanciale — and sheep-milk pecorino available to peasants, and that tomatoes were added at a later date.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pope Francis skipped his catechism lesson during his General Audience and instead led pilgrims in praying the rosary for the victims of Italy’s earthquake.
Holding a rosary in his right hand, Francis told the crowd that he was stunned by the devastation of the magnitude 6 temblor that struck central Italy early Wednesday. He said he wanted to express his pain and solidarity with the victims.
The crowd in St. Peter’s Square recited the prayer along with him.