Amatrice - the demise of a town
World view / / / December 2016
hen the earthquake struck on August 24, a Wednesday, just after half three, most of the town's inhabitants were still asleep. A baker who was making his way to work and passing through the historic center on his scooter was buried under the mounds of masonry. Most of the victims, however, died in their homes – with a death toll of almost 300. The clock on the Torre Civica, the symbol of this small town, has stopped. Its hands are stuck at 3:38 a.m.
Alessio Rosatelli: "Many of
our customers had already
received their money after
ten days. This is something
no other insurance company
has been able to achieve."
"It really does bring a tear to your eye," says Alessio Rosatelli. "When you meet people who have lost everything, their loved ones, everything they've worked for their whole life, in the space of two minutes – it really gets to you." Being the Allianz agent in Rieti, Rosatelli is also responsible for Amatrice. When he heard what had happened, he made his way over to the epicenter to get an idea of what he was dealing with. Just under three months have passed since the catastrophe, and you still cannot help but realize how moved he is by the sheer magnitude of destruction and human suffering.
We drive from Rieti to Amatrice. The road twists and turns through the mountains, the sky is grey. It’s autumn. Monte Terminillo, all covered in snow, glistens in the distance. In winter, it's a popular destination for Italians wanting to escape Rome for a weekend on the slopes. Yet only two weeks ago, on October 30, the Apennines were hit again by a severe earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale, making it the most powerful seismic disaster in 36 years. This time, it was Norcia, a town located 45 kilometers further north, that was hit the hardest. The earthquake then used the remainder of its force to destroy everything that was still more or less standing in Amatrice. The belfry on Torre Civica that had managed to escape the August earthquake bar a few battle wounds also gave in.
Allianz employees across the whole of Italy donated parts of their September salary to help victims of the earthquake. The amount doubled thanks to the matching of contributions from Allianz Italy, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) Italy and Allianz Telematics adding up to about a quarter of a million euros. Negotiations are currently underway with the Italian Red Cross to decide how the money should be used
You can feel yourself getting closer to the terror, step by step. As you initially enter the area, you only see a few buildings here and there with cracks in their walls. You walk down a street fissured by the rubble, past a perimeter wall that has collapsed. The further you walk, the bigger the mark of destruction the quake left on the city. The area looks deserted, a lot of the roads are impossible to go down. Half-disintegrated houses cling to the mountainside on top of the valley for dear life – half of their facade has already crashed down the mountain edge. It's like looking directly into open wounds. The reservoir walls in front of Amatrice managed to resist the seismic monster, although the lake has been drained anyway. Just to be on the safe side. A key approach viaduct had to be locked down. The one we have to cross doesn't look particularly reliable either.
The house of Pietro Narcisi, on the other hand, seems to have emerged from the terror rather unscathed. Still, he tells us how the events of August 24 didn't spare the 60-year-old masonry either – it was shaken to its very foundations. In his deli and cafe downstairs, entire shelves collapsed, bottles burst; boxes were sent flying – almost as if an invisible hand had dragged a blanket of devastation over the area. "My wife and I wanted to get out into the open space but we could barely stand upright," he recalls. Their house wobbled, but it withstood the tremor.
Although the damage to goods and inventory remained negligible, Narcisi gives his insurance agent great credit for getting in touch with him immediately after the earthquake, as well as sending over a loss assessor. "In our jobs, these kinds of moments are pivotal," says Patrizio Paolini, Allianz sub-agent in Amatrice. "It's not even so much about the money, it's more about feeling that someone is there for you, looking out for you and offering help. These kinds of emergency situations are testament to how sometimes, all we need is a kind word from another human being. People won’t forget that gesture."
And that's despite the fact that Paolini, who serves several hundred Allianz customers in and around Amatrice together with his wife Martina Deli, could have done with a shoulder to cry on himself. The quake left the couple's house uninhabitable. Ever since that night, the office they had set up in a restored Palazzo in the center of the town has been in danger of collapsing. "We lost all of our furniture," says Martina. That night, as they were startled out of their sleep by the ground shaking, it took the young parents a few seconds to realize what was going on. Patrizio had to crawl out from underneath the wall cabinet that had fallen on top of him, Martina grabbed the couple's two-year old daughter and fumbled her way outside. It was pitch black, with not a flicker of light as far as the eye could see.
No trespassing. 3 people died in this house.
Pietro Narcisi got off lightly. His house was shaken to its very foundations but it withstood the tremor. The damage to goods and inventory remained negligible.
The mobile Allianz office – three chairs, a desk, a computer. Patrizio Paolini and Martina Deli could get back to work in no time at all. Though the earthquake destroyed all of the furniture of their old office, all customer data was backed up in the Cloud.
He believes that Amatrice has a future: Fabio Magnifici (in the middle, pictured together with Patrizio Paolini and Martina Deli) opened a cafe on a road leading into the town center back in autumn. Having taken out an Allianz1 Business policy, he also has cover protecting him from earthquake risks.
A tiny glimmer of hope
Patrizio and his wife only need a couple of minutes to walk over to the area of devastation from their mobile office, a converted camper the Allianz head office provided to them following the earthquake. The roads are on lockdown – partly because more buildings could collapse at any time, partly in order to keep looters away. Torre Civica rises above the debris like a monument – what's left of it, anyway. What was once the center of a picturesque town has now been destroyed in its entirety, with most of the almost 300 victims buried under the rubble. Patrizio Paolini and his wife knew a lot of the people who lost their lives during the earthquake, a number of their customers among them. Everyone knows everyone when you live in a town with less than 3,000 inhabitants. "Two of our closest friends who came to our wedding two years ago didn't survive either," says Martina Deli. She is expecting the couple's second child.
In a country as Italy, where owned homes are a primary family asset, those who were insured against an infrequent but extremely serious event like the earthquake were able to experience the concrete and immediate benefits of an insurance protection.«
Klaus-Peter Roehler, CEO of Allianz Italy
Many of their insurance customers also had their businesses in the area. The bakery, the pharmacy, the tiny minimart, the cafe, the clothes boutique, the electric store – il mostro, the monster that breaks down mountains and engulfs human beings, barely spared a soul. As the couple phoned their customers not long after the disaster to find out about the damage that occurred and offer their help, many of them had no idea that their corporate policy also protects them against earthquake risks. The owner of the little cafe, who survived with his daughter – his wife and son lost their lives –, burst into tears when they told him. "It was tough," says Patrizio Paolini. "But at least there was this tiny glimmer of hope amid all the sorrow."
"Still, these situations remain the exception rather than the rule because of the nature of the Italian policyholder market," says Riccardo Riccardi, head of the Middle Italy region for Allianz (Direzione Vendite Centro). "Private homeowners, especially, tend to rely on support from the state in the event that an emergency occurs." Although the vast majority of Italians are on the property ladder – a much higher proportion than the corresponding number in Germany – only 17 percent of homeowners are insured, with less than one percent taking out earthquake cover. ANIA, the Association of Italian Insurers, is calling for earthquake cover to be made compulsory – with debate flaring up each time a major disaster strikes. Up until now, however, all attempts have been in vain.
In actual fact, Sagra degli Spaghetti all’amatriciana should have kicked off in Amatrice three days after the earthquake. The pasta dish, which originates from Amatrice, is known and loved across the whole of Italy. As things stand at present, it's impossible to predict whether this traditional spaghetti festival will ever happen again. A large number of the inhabitants found shelter in hotels and temporary accommodation along the coast. No one knows how many of them will return.