Italy mourns deadly Emilia quakes on anniversary

'Country united in pain, memory' says President Napolitano

Italy mourns deadly Emilia quakes on anniversary

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, May 20 - Italy was in mourning Monday on the one-year anniversary of the first in a series of devastating earthquakes that struck the northern Emilia-Romagna region, killing dozens of people, injuring several hundred and leaving thousands homeless. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said the country was united by the pain and the memory of the quakes. "Tragedies of this kind inflict a serious wound on the entire country, which must unite itself in the pain and in the memory," said Napolitano in a statement. The first quake, which struck just after 4:00 AM Italian time on this day last year, measured a magnitude of 5.9 and was followed by a 5.8-magnitude quake on May 29. These and their aftershocks killed a total of 27 people, while the economy in the area, long a powerhouse of Italian industrial output, also suffered a huge blow, shaving an estimated 1.0% off of Italy's entire gross domestic product (GDP). Among the hardest-hit industries was the region's prized biomedical and agro-food hubs. The Coldiretti farmers' association estimates that the losses caused for the food sector alone amounted to one billion euros, which included the cost of damage to machinery and buildings such as stalls, barns, processing plants and warehouses, and the loss of around one million wheels of the region's famous Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) and Grana Padano cheeses. On Monday Coldiretti slammed Italian bureaucracy for preventing "a single euro" in relief funds from reaching agrobusinesses and farms in the year since the quake. The "survey of damage and allocation of funds" was mired by "an extremely fragmented and complex bureaucracy" of rules and public administration that have made it impossible for funds to reach the people and businesses who need them "at a pace appropriate to the seriousness of the event". Many buildings today remain in ruin, although the region's efforts to get back on its feet have been widely hailed. "In the certainty that the same spirit will continue to give life to the reconstruction effort, I express my closeness to all the stricken communities and all Italians," Napolitano added. Premier Enrico Letta said he will visit the region next week to survey the recovery. "I will be there to commemorate (the quake) and accelerate the reconstruction," he said on Twitter. "(The next) 10 days mark a sad anniversary". The European Commission in December released 670 million euros in assistance for the region and for surrounding areas that were less severely damaged in the Veneto and Lombardy regions. It is the largest amount of aid ever granted under the European Union Solidarity Fund. The quakes also wreaked massive damage on historic buildings, from ancient small towns, to cities that attract visitors from all over the world, like Modena and Ferrara. Some of the worst casualties in Ferrara - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - were the cupola of its 15th-century church San Cristoforo alla Certosa, the 14th-century show palace Palazzo Schifanoia and the Este dynasty's former ruling seat the Castle Estense.

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