- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

L’AQUILA, ITALY (AP) - Some semblance of routine was settling in at the tent camps sprawled across Italy’s central earthquake-stricken region on Saturday, and most of it involved lines: waiting for breakfast, waiting for information, waiting for a shower _ a cold shower.

Residents were slowly accepting that this could be their life for at least the next few months until temporary housing can be built. Some can’t even think about returning to their homes, still spooked by the quake that shook them from their sleep Monday morning and killed at least 293 people.

On the eve of Easter, Roman Catholic faithful confessed their sins in a blowup tent fitted with an altar and a crucifix to prepare for Mass the next day. In other tents, people gathered around flat screen TVs to watch a soccer game or a news program reporting the death toll had risen _ with the latest bodies pulled from the rubble of a building in L’Aquila, only a few blocks away.

Their plight was remembered across the nation. Soccer matches on Saturday were preceded by a minute of silence, and several clubs were donating gate receipts to help survivors.

“This would have seemed impossible before but it’s the reality. Life has to go on,” said Giovanni Fasano, a 52-year-old private security guard sharing a blue tent with his wife and four relatives, their dog tied up outside.

The occupants are some of the 40,000 people whose homes were either destroyed, badly damaged or too risky to reoccupy without extensive repairs and shoring up.

Fasano said he expects to live in the tent camp for some six months, but his wife, Monia Tobia, said she doesn’t expect to live in a real home for three years.

In any case, Tobia is too terrified to return after the earthquake and hopes her husband can find a job elsewhere in Italy.

Despite the uncertainty, the woman said she still plans to try to have her first child soon, even with the lack of privacy in the tent and the difficulties of everyday life.

‘“I know it’s not the right moment, but I don’t want to wait, because I’m almost 40. There is the life we have now, and time is running out for me,” she said.

Life in the tent camp isn’t easy, Tobia said. There are showers but no hot water or hair dryers. She ran her fingers through stringy and greasy brown hair. “I haven’t washed my hair since two days before the earthquake.”

Her husband added that the bathrooms were unpleasant since many of the other residents didn’t keep them clean. Containers have been set up with showers and toilets.

The camps mix the mundane and the surreal. Residents wake up to long lines for a breakfast of tea, yogurt and sweet croissants, many of them reading newspapers as they wait.

At the entrances to the main camp in L’Aquila, which occupies a running track, a notice announces a lost pit bull, while another notice says psychological help for any of the 1,700 residents is available in a green tent.

Outside of many tents, people have hung up laundry to dry.

People sit on plastic chairs chatting with their new neighbors.

On Saturday afternoon, some children and teens were being taught a dance routine to African music by an African man in a traditional blue robe.

Authorities have said it could be weeks, if not months, before it is known which of the houses left standing are safe enough to be repaired and which will have to be demolished.

Engineers and geologists have said well-constructed buildings meeting seismic-safety standards should not have collapsed as they did, raising fears that shoddy construction factored significantly in the 6.3-magnitude temblor’s deadliness and destruction.

L’Aquila prosecutor Alfredo Rossini has opened an investigation into the allegations of poor construction.

Firefighters clearing rubble have said reinforced concrete pillars crumbled like dust, sparking speculation that the cement was of poor quality.

Rossini declined to list the suspicious buildings, but ones that crumbled or have been designated uninhabitable by the quake include a university dormitory and a hospital, both of which were built after seismic standards had been raised. L’Aquila’s courthouse, which houses the prosecutors, also was left unusable.

The prosecutor said in an interview on state TV that authorities would investigate if some of the deaths and destruction was caused by “men who constructed badly, or maybe used poor-quality materials, or bad designs, or even speculated by putting in cement” that couldn’t resist quakes.

Rossini said the probe would investigate the alleged use of sea sand mixed in with cement. “Sea sand corrodes cement, which then doesn’t hold up at all,” he said.

At a flattened apartment building in L’Aquila, rescuers for a second day combed through the rubble, after dogs trained to look for survivors indicated there might be some life. But fire officials at the scene cautioned that the scent might have been that of an animal and sounds could be water trickling or an appliance still running.

At nightfall, digging was halted at the L’Aquila site with no trace of life found, the Italian news agency Apcom reported. Firefighters said the bodies extricated from rubble elsewhere in the town earlier in the day appeared to be those of the last few people who had been reported missing.

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