Earthquake survivor arrested for refusing to leave his town

A man whose house was destroyed in the central Italy earthquake last August was jailed for two nights after refusing to leave his hometown.

Earthquake survivor arrested for refusing to leave his town
Rescuers searching in damaged homes in Arquata del Tronto, central Italy. Photo: STR/AFP

On Monday, 58-year-old Marche resident Enzo Rendina was arrested and jailed for two nights, accused of hampering firefighters' efforts by refusing to leave the town.

Now he has been banned by police from setting foot in Arquata del Tronto, at least until a hearing in late March.

Rendina is a native of Pescara del Tronto, a part of Arquata del Tronto, the worst affected town after neighbouring Amatrice and home to around 50 of the 299 victims. 

Read our full interview with Enzo Rendina here

“”I'm a victim. I saved other human beings, and put all my energy into helping – this is shameful,” Rendina told The Local on Thursday. He says that after escaping from his own collapsed house following the August quake, he pulled some of his neighbours from the rubble of their homes, and has assisted firefighters in the ongoing recovery work.

But while most residents were relocated to hostels and hotels along the coast, he refused, despite warnings from the town's mayor, firefighters, and Italy's special commissioner for post-earthquake reconstruction that he was risking his life. 

He spent the next few months staying in tents provided by rescuers and the Civil Protection Department, and he says his determination to stay is due to fear as much as love for his town.

“They don't understand why I kept refusing to stay in a hotel,” Rendina said. “The earthquake changed me, I can't feel calm anymore and I can't sleep in a house built from bricks.”

After the heavy snowfall of early January made it dangerous to stay in a tent, Rendina stayed at a camp set up by the firefighters who were still carrying out recovery operations and snow clearance in the town.

He argues that his knowledge of the area was a help to the rescuers, many of whom came from northern Italy, and was shocked by his arrest on Monday, which followed an earlier cease-and-desist order. After two nights in jail, he was released on Wednesday under the condition that he stay away from Arquata del Tronto; he is currently staying in a hotel.

Rendina's lawyer, Francesco Ciabbatoni, told The Local he is hopeful that his client will be acquitted, and allowed to return. 

“He has done nothing wrong. His only 'crime' is that he loves his land – it's a crime of love,” the lawyer said.

Recent weeks have seen residents from the earthquake-hit towns protesting in Rome over government delays in the recovery effort. Like Rendina, they are angry that the promised temporary housing has in many places still not been delivered.

One placard read: “Bureaucracy kills more than the earthquake”, and one of the protest's organizers told The Local: “It will take at least ten years to be able to return to our homes, and we haven't even been able to empty our houses and recover our furniture, our memories of our lives and those of our ancestors.”

The 2016 quakes left thousands of homes in ruins or structurally unsafe, emptying a string of villages and small towns across Italy's mountainous central regions, with an estimated 40,000 people forced to find shelter.



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New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.