An ordinary day in a primary school in L’Aquila, central Italy. An ordinary day, but not an ordinary school. It is a temporary education centre constructed following the earthquake, which devastated the city in 2009.
Five years on, there is no permanent structure and people’s patience is wearing thin.
Silvia Frezza, a teacher at the Polo Scolastico Sassa, listed the problems: “The temporary nature of the school building is becoming clearer. The heating vents, there is condensation and the children have breathing problems. For the past five years we have tried to deal with and react to the emergency. But we don’t want this emergency to continue for another five years! Enough!”
It is a sentiment echoed all over the region that still bears the scars of the quake, which left 309 people dead and 70,000 homeless.
Thousands of people were relocated and housed in temporary apartments, built as part of the emergency response.
Pierluigi Lo Marco has been living in one of the biggest of the temporary housing units of the so called CASE project, which groups about 20 villages, built in only a few months in the outskirts of the city of L’Aquila.
The building’s limitations are all too clear – damp, poor materials, bad insulation – and the grievances mount.
This winter they received their first heating bills in three years.
Pierluigi, who is head of the residents’ association said they were shockingly high: “Many here are left with heating bills of 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 euros. Where are they going to find the money? We are asking the city council to challenge those that built and installed these inadequate energy systems that don’t meet standards. Those responsible must pay the difference.”
The numerous technical failings of the construction companies are becoming clear along with complaints that they charged twice the going rate for their work.
A number of temporary housing units have now had to be abandoned on the edge of L’Aquila.
One had been constructed in a flood zone with a total disregard for safety. It has been placed in receivership, along with two other similar developments.
More than 100 families had to be evacuated to other temporary accommodation.
Resident Anna Lunadei is furious: “The materials used were already deteriorating back in 2009. The wood used for the pavements has not been assembled, the streetlights – touch them – they’re not fixed to the ground. Some of the roofs of the houses split open, and the rain poured in to people’s homes. The builders and others were taken to court, I think they spent a few days under house arrest, and as always happens in Italy, they have not paid a single euro.”
Cases of shoddy workmanship and embezzlement charges linked to the post-earthquake response appear regularly in the Italian media.
Last November, MEP Soren Sondergaard, a member of the Budgetary Control Commission of the European Parliament, released a controversial report.
He claims part of the 493 million euros from the EU’s solidarity fund allocated to L’Aquila, including for emergency housing, was paid out to companies linked to organised crime at inflated prices.
The accusations have been highlighted by the anti-Mafia organisation Libera.
Angelo Venti from the Libera group in L’Aquila explained: “At the time there was a number of amendments and exemptions in the laws, including the law on tenders, which resulted in an easing of controls and this encouraged companies with links to organised crime. Corruption is taking root in the wider society and the proof is we no longer receive complaints. But we have to be careful because the complaints we do receive could be from competing Mafia connected companies.”
Urban planner Antonio Perrotti has long complained about the problems, which he witnessed first hand as a former member of the Civil Protection Committee that was responsible for demolition contracts following the earthquake.
Urban development and technical concerns were not the main criteria for signing deals, Perrotti told euronews: “It was an opportunity to indulge in some wheeling and dealing. They handed out contracts to go-betweens for the removal of rubble, demolition and unnecessary and excessive shoring up of the buildings in L’Aquila.”
Five years on the reconstruction of the medieval city is far from complete.
There are few people in the deserted streets of the old town The noise of building work echoes around and there is scaffolding everywhere.
There has been further controversy over the cost and quality of the material used to support the historic buildings; seismic engineers doubt they will survive another quake.
That is without including the many residential buildings that are being restored at extremely high cost.
Antonello Salvatori, a seismic engineer who has studied the area, said: “The damage and structural damage in particular has gone too far to be able to restore these buildings. They should have been demolished and rebuilt immediately. It would have allowed the population to return home earlier. It also would have reduced relief costs and the costs of constructing temporary housing.”
According to L’Aquila’s Mayor Massimo Cialente, it will cost five billion euros to rebuild the city.
But money is in short supply. And this was the mayor’s main concern, when we met him in december.
Since then, he resigned after his deputy was put under investigation for graft.
But at the time of our interview, the mayor directed his anger at the EU: “We found a way to get the money for reconstruction and we need a lot; for the moment the government is not giving it to me. We could, for instance, borrow money from a number of banks to repay over 40 years. But we would then exceed the three percent rule set by the European Stability Pact. If a country is hit by a natural disaster, how is it possible that Europe will not allow to it break the pact so it can repair the damage. It’s inhuman, it’s shameful.”
But resident Pierluigi Lo Marco says despite everything, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
After two years under construction his former building will soon be complete, fulfilling all safety requirements.
It is where he lost everything on April 6, 2009. Despite that he is determined to live there again with his family: “My dream is to wake up here on the morning of April 6 in my house. I want to wipe away all the bad memories here and finally get my life back, that was taken by nature, five years ago.”