By Antonia Williams Annunziata
AMATRICE, ITALY (August 26, 2016)– Yesterday was the first time I saw a dead body. Not just one, but many. They were in bodybags but I could still make out the figure. I could still make out bent limbs, dried blood and the smell reached deep and engrained itself in my nose for hours after I left.
A temporary morgue was set up in town for the families to identify their loved ones. Twelve tents one next to the other holding eight to ten bodies. Many had already been brought out and airlifted to Rieti, a neighboring town, to a more permanent and refrigerated morgue for further inspections.
A black tarp was the only barrier separating the dead from their families who were waiting in agony for their names to be called out in order for them to identify the corpses. A priest by the name of Padre Savino brought me into the confined area. Out of the twelve tents two of them were the children’s tents. The little lifeless bodies waited patiently for their parents to find them.
He explained most of the children had already been taken away. The problem was with two other tents labeled ‘unidentified’. He continued by saying the corpses in those tents were unrecognizable to the point that the authorities asked [him] to look at the post mortem photos in the hopes that he could find something to base their identity on. “I knew everyone in this town, when they asked I agreed because I wanted to help as much as possible… yet the feeling I had when seeing those photos is surreal. Faces that weren’t faces anymore, bodies that weren’t bodies…”
Family members had to walk into every tent, open every body bag, if lucky, they identified their loved ones relatively quickly. The less lucky had to walk into the twelve tents and open eight to ten bags in order to find whoever they were looking for.
I saw a woman come out of the tenth tent with her hands to her face about to collapse. Her son grabbed her just before she hit the floor. He held her to his chest and with one hand he held her head. They cried and looked at each other in utter desperation. The situation reached a level of difficulty Pope Francis himself called the Bishop of Rieti expressing his closeness to all the victims. The Pope also called upon an outdoors funeral without the caskets, as they’re so many bodies and simply not enough space.
A few instead were still dispersed, and some still under the rubble. Yesterday evening firefighters were still looking for a family of five stuck under their collapsed home. It felt strange walking passed that house, knowing under there somewhere was a family. I walked around it trying to grasp a picture of how beautiful that house must have been. Yet all I could see were beds hanging from rooms, bathtubs broken in half hanging from the second floor being held by only a pipe and clothes piled around the rocks.
The official body count today was 207 only in Amatrice, excluding neighbouring towns. The third day following the earthquake and challenges haven’t eased. There are too many bodies for the town to handle. The unrecognised bodies are starting to seriously decompose, and the body count keeps rising with not enough caskets to hold them. The surviving victims have just been notified that they will most likely be housed in tents for at least the next five months, a lot of them are elderly. Winter after all is around the corner. There have been a frequent aftershocks in the night, this morning and a few during the day as well which caused two of the three bridges to almost collapsed and have now been closed off.
The town is relying on one bridge for the next few months. If that one collapses too then Amatrice is isolated. The overall question everyone keeps asking themselves is “what will become of us?” No one knows quite yet.