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Central Italy Is Hit by Earthquakes That Injure 20 People and Inflict New Damage on Basilica

October 3, 1997

Central Italy Is Hit by Earthquakes That Injure 20 People and Inflict New Damage on Basilica of St. Francis of AssisiBy DANIEL J. WAKIN

ASSISI, Italy (AP) _ Central Italy quivered and shook again on Friday, as earthquakes injured 20 people and inflicted more damage on the famed Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and other buildings hit by temblors a week ago.

The earthquakes sowed panic in people still alarmed by the earlier shocks. Many residents once again fled homes and offices for the safety of open areas.

``What is this mystery of the earth moving? Can’t it stay still?″ asked the Rev. Pasquale Magro, head of the the basilica’s museum.

The epicenter of Friday’s most powerful, 4.8 magnitude quake was near Serravalle de Chienti, 30 miles east of Assisi. It sent workers at the region’s disaster relief center running out their doors when the brief rumbling began at 10:55 a.m.

The double quake that hit Sept. 26 had made Serravalle a virtual ghost town. Its several thousand residents, along with up to 42,000 others in the regions of Umbria and Marche, have been sleeping outside in tents, campers and cars.

Diana Gandolfini, 50, sitting in front of a camper in an encampment near Serravalle, said she had left her home for good.

``I won’t go back after all that fear,″ she said.

About 20 people suffered minor injuries from falling debris in Friday’s quake and a series of aftershocks that followed. A temblor with a magnitude of 3.5 struck at 1:04 p.m. and another almost as strong about 40 minutes later. In Foligno, the epicenter of last week’s quake, a woman with a history of heart trouble died after Friday’s temblor.

Magro said the new rumblings further damaged the St. Francis basilica.

Part of the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling collapsed last week during the second and the strongest quake, at magnetite 5.5. Four people were killed and two of the cathedral’s treasured frescoes were destroyed. In all, 11 people died in last week’s double quake.

Magro said the basilica’s damaged ceiling survived the new shocks. But more stones fell from the south facade and showers of plaster rained down inside the cathedral.

Small cracks opened up in asphalt of the main piazza next to the lower church.

Technicians have been cataloging pieces of frescoes that fell last week and experts are studying ways to reinforce the basilica’s structure.

Italy’s civil defense chief, Nicola Barberi, said the strength of last week’s temblors caught authorities by surprise. He said the aftershocks were more powerful than anyone can remember. As a precaution, authorities evacuated Assisi’s hospital on Friday.

Assisi is one of Italy’s most-visited sites, and the entire region is dotted with well-preserved medieval towns.

The new temblors struck as relief teams were working throughout the region to reinforce damaged buildings, find shelter for people driven from their homes. ``This enormously complicates their work,″ said Mariano Borgognoni, president of Perugia province.

Deputy Premier Walter Veltroni said the damage to art works and historical monuments would amount to millions of dollars.

There were reports of new damage throughout the area.

The ANSA news agency said the badly weakened medieval bell tower in Nocera Umbra had collapsed. Another ancient bell tower in Foligno, last week’s epicenter, was leaning so badly that experts said it will have to be demolished.

The bell tower of the church in the town of Camerino, 10 miles from Serravalle, also collapsed.

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