Thirty-one tent cities have been set up to deal with the homeless

When the earth shook the city of L'Aquila few were prepared for what would come next. 

Hitting in the dead of night as people were asleep in their beds, the quake gave them just seconds to get out of their homes.

I arrived at the scene a few hours after the quake and what struck me was the sheer random nature of surviving this kind of a disaster. The fact that on one street a house could be left standing while the one right next door collapsed.

There has been much discussion about how the historic centre of L'Aquila, with its stone houses, didn't stand a chance.

But what about the more modern buildings that were also hit - such as the purportedly earthquake-proof hospital built in 2000 that partially caved in.

These are questions that will have to be answered in the coming days and weeks.

Rescue operation

In L'Aquila, I reported from a four-storey apartment that had been reduced to rubble by the quake.

It was an intense rescue operation. The only access firefighters had was a small hole in the roof.
 
It was as if the concrete floors had been pancaked together; you could see blankets, mattresses jutting out from underneath the slabs but there were no signs of life.

We were told that there were more than 20 people inside, and at first workers were hopeful, they could hear noises coming from inside and sniffer dogs were used to locate the victims.

But as the night wore on there was nothing, just silence, and we all realised that most of the people had probably been killed.

Even the most hardened of firefighters who had experienced earthquakes before told us this would haunt them for the rest of their lives. 

Survival stories

There were of course incredible stories of survival, a woman I met in Onna, a village totally devastated by the earthquake, told me she had woken up by chance seconds before the quake.

Rescuers have worked day and night to find survivors under the rubble
She spoke of the eerie silence; "Even the dogs stopped barking".

Forty of the 300 people who lived in the village were killed.

On the night of the earthquake something made Luigi Sarra suggest to his wife they should sleep outside.

He told me: "I had felt the tremors earlier in the day and was worried."

It was that instinct that saved their lives.
I met Jolanda Andreasi living in a tent she shared with her family just outside L'Aquila. Her house was in Paganica, a beautiful little hillside town with a population of around 7,000 people.

Jolanda, her husband and her daughter managed to get out, but her parents did not.

"It wasn't an earthquake it was like hell and catastrophe and apocalypse," she told me.

Cramped conditions 

Her daughter, who is only ten-years-old, said she was writing a book about her experiences. In cramped conditions - they are sharing a tent with Jolanda's uncle, his wife and cousins - she is writing a diary.

There are 31 tent cities scattered around the region, even a school tent is being built.

Jolanda is living in the biggest one, thrown up on a sports field outside L’Aquila.

There are 2,000 people there and most of them have been left with just the clothes on their back.

They may have nothing but they would rather be here in the cold that inside right now. The aftershocks keep rumbling underground, keeping everyone, including us, awake at night and reminding the survivors of that it could all could happen again.

Jolanda gave me a hug and begged me to keep the story of what happened here alive. Her biggest fear now is that as the weeks pass media interest in their plight will diminish and they will be forgotten.

Source: Al Jazeera