In Italy, a Town Still ‘Broken’ by a Quake. The One 7 Years Ago.


“The main thing is to understand how to make fewer mistakes,” said Celso Cioni, the director of the local branch of the business association Confcommercio. “Mistakes will be made, but they should try to make less of them, which would already be something.”

By last count, more than 22,000 people were receiving assistance since earthquakes started wreaking destruction in dozens of scenic hilltop towns in Umbria, Marche, Lazio and Abruzzo on Aug. 24, 2016. Most of those people — some 15,400 residents — have opted to remain in makeshift dormitories in sports centers or in tents near their hometowns, rather than being transferred to hotels on the coast.

So far, 130 million euros (about $143 million) has been earmarked to deal with the immediate effects of the 2016 earthquakes, which killed nearly 300, and Mr. Renzi said on Monday that better shelters — made from shipping containers — would be available by Christmas.

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Pietro Di Stefano, the city councilor responsible for reconstruction.

Credit
Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

After that, the homeless will be placed in temporary wooden houses while their permanent homes are rebuilt. It is the long-term prospect of rebuilding that worries many.

Even today, seven years after its own disaster, L’Aquila is a tale of two cities: part cacophonous construction site, part ghost town.

For the most part, the outskirts of the city have been redeveloped and repopulated, complete with parking hassles and traffic jams.

Work on the monumental areas of the city’s historic center, a tight grid of grand palazzos and elegant churches, has picked up considerably in the past two years — so much that L’Aquila is now the largest construction site in Italy.

Dismissing negative assessments of the recovery, Roberto Di Vincenzo, the coordinator of Officina L’Aquila, a project to promote best reconstruction practices, said that in Italy “it is always easier to destroy than to build.”

“Certainly problems have existed, but if you go to the center of L’Aquila today, you see life,” he said.

But there are sizable patches of the old city where time has stood still. Many a palazzo-lined street has been abandoned to the wear of the weather and to overgrown vegetation.

Many of the displaced continue to live in temporary housing or in government-sponsored apartment buildings in so-called new towns outside the city that were developed for the homeless in the months after the tremor.

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Pictures and flowers commemorating students who died in the quake.

Credit
Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Critics say that the decision to construct new towns, rather than focus on rebuilding the historic center, was the most significant misstep in L’Aquila’s renewal, displacing funds and unraveling the city’s social fabric, possibly irreparably.

“The major mistake was the creation of new towns” that decentralized the city, said Antonio Perrotti, a local architect. That meant that offices, stores and other areas of social interaction had not returned to the city center.

The rebuilt city now sprawls along an 11-mile axis after activities that were once in the center were moved to the periphery, said Aldo Benedetti, an engineering professor at the University of L’Aquila.

And the city’s infrastructure was not adequately reinforced, he said, citing a lack of sidewalks and public transportation, as well as areas for citizens to congregate in the Italian tradition.

“They had no idea how to organize this,” he said. “We need a vision that starts from public space.”

Then reconstruction efforts were hampered by a long litany of setbacks: uncertain funding, political infighting, power struggles, a lack of common vision and inefficient bureaucracy, which Mr. Renzi has pledged to change.

Not least, L’Aquila’s reconstruction was marred by cases of corruption, murky questions involving subcontracting and investigations into the involvement of criminal organizations.

City officials say that after a bumpy start, reconstruction has been on a more positive track since the Italian government made funding available.

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A building site in downtown L’Aquila.

Credit
Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Some €4.6 billion has already been spent on rebuilding private homes, and dozens of cranes pepper the city’s skyline, a constant reminder of the renovation downtown. In all, the reconstruction of L’Aquila and its suburbs is expected to cost €8 billion.

The objective is “to complete the city proper by 2019,” said Pietro Di Stefano, the city councilor responsible for reconstruction. “There are good practices, which can be followed,” he said. “The important thing is to look at what has already been done.”

But the earthquakes this year have dealt the city, and the region, yet another setback.

“We’re putting our heart and soul into doing everything we can to start up again, but with each new quake everything grinds to a halt,” said Nicoletta Colaneri, an owner of a bar off the main square that opened on Aug. 20, just four days before the first major tremor.

The recent quakes rattled already frazzled nerves and transformed L’Aquila into “a desert island,” her cousin and co-owner, Peppe Colaneri, said, and the meager earnings of the past two months have been laughable compared with their investment.

Seven years after their city was destroyed, “We never thought that we’d still be fighting against the earthquake,” Ms. Colaneri said.

“Everything is so broken that it’s going to take a long time,” she said.

Then there are the places that not even time may help restore. If L’Aquila has seen a frenzy of activity, the same cannot be said for many of the 60 odd towns in its environs that were badly damaged in 2009.

There, most residents who opted to stay close to their former homes still live in the new towns, or in prefab wooden homes arranged in makeshift lots, complete with churches and playgrounds.

“They’re homey, and they give you security” when the earth trembles, said Denise Nasturzi, who lives with her partner in a wooden house in the lot next to Onna, where reconstruction of the old town has barely begun.

Onna’s main church opened this year, and a community center is a point of congregation, but only a few palazzos show signs that any kind of refurbishment has begun. “It’s hard to imagine it will return to what it was,” Ms. Nasturzi said.

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