At 3.46 on August 24th 2016, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck the towns of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto, near Rieti, in Central Italy. Of a total of 290 dead, 239 people were killed in Amatrice. Rescue teams pulled out another 239 people (some of whom died afterwards) from the rubble. At Amatrice, the gravity of the situation was clear immediately after the quake. Interviewed by a radio station, mayor Sergio Pirozzi said: “The town no longer exists.” In fact, some structures remained standing after the quake but the authorities deemed they were unsafe and needed to be knocked down.
At the edge of town, the Hotel Roma, famous for its restaurant where the most appreciated dish was pasta all’amatriciana (spaghetti with amatrice style sauce, consisting of tomato sauce, slivers of pork cheek and sheep cheese) was severely damaged in the quake and collapsed on one side. 6 people died but 20 other clients were able to escape without a scratch. Alessio Bucci, the hotel manager and son of the owners, along with his wife Tiziana, was buried under the rubble for several hours before rescue teams were able to free them. Ever since the night of the quake, Mayor Pirozzi has been conducting an ongoing battle to keep Amatrice in the news, in the hope that media attention would put pressure on the Italian government and force the administrators at all levels to keep their promises of assistance to the local population. So far, his valiant efforts have produced few results.
Exactly one year later, the town of Amatrice looks as though it was destroyed by a carpet bombing. Due to bureaucratic delays, less than 10 percent of the rubble has been removed, and only 210 out of a total of 480 temporary houses have been delivered. Many of the town’s inhabitants are still living in trailers or with friends. At present, nobody knows where, when and in what shape the town will be rebuilt. But Amatrice also has its share of success stories among those inhabitants who’ve chosen to remain and rebuild. The most noteworthy of these is the story of Alessio Bucci and his family. After escaping from the rubble of the Hotel Roma, for 25 days Alessio fought for his life in the intensive care ward in L’Aquila. Afterwards, he remained in hospital another 3 months while surgeons performed several operations to rebuild the vascular system in his right leg that had been crushed by a slab of cement.
On July 29th, in San Cipriano, an area just outside of Amatrice, the Food Area designed by Architect Stefano Boeri, built in wood and glass and paid for by the donations from private citizens to the daily Corriere della Sera and TV news broadcaster TGLa7, opened to the public. The area will house 8 of Amatrice’s historical restaurants, two of which, da Giovannino and Ristorante Roma were immediately operational. A few days ago, inside the new Restaurant Roma, Alessio Bucci and his family are busy at work, trying to feed more than one hundred seated customers and just as many
that are lined up outside the door. Alessio’s mother, Maria Palombini is in the kitchen preparing an endless supply of steaming dishes of pasta Amatriciana style, while his father Arnaldo and sister Simona assist with taking orders and waiting on tables in the vast glass-enclosed open space that contains the restaurant.
For us,” says Alessio, “This is a moment of rebirth.” Pausing for a moment, after delivering three dishes of pasta, he adds, “This new food area is beautiful. Tourists are back and we’re serving more than 300 customers every day. There is hope for the future.” Turning serious he adds: “Even when we were trapped under the rubble I was confident that my wife and I would be rescued and that somehow we’d be back in business.”
Bucci points out that in Amatrice the government is moving very slowly, too slowly, in fact. The rubble has not been removed and red tape strangles everything, especially when you need to reopen a business, like the family restaurant. “We were helped by the Italians,” says Alessio, “and not by the government. And by our mayor, who I’d like to thank publicly.” In mid-afternoon, after the last client has left, waiters are setting the tables for the evening crowd and in the kitchen Alessio prepares some cakes. “My family lost everything in the quake. Our hotel and the restaurant. But we all survived.” He points to 3 young boys who are busy peeling potatoes. “The one in the middle is my nephew Alessandro,” he says, “the other two are friends of his. The little boy on his right lost his mom and his baby sister in the quake, the other boy lost several cousins. We need to remember that we’ve been lucky and make the best of the chance that we’ve been given.”