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Aftershocks and miracles

April 8, 2009
In his General Audience today, Pope Benedict XVI told the people of L'Aquila and the region of Abruzzo (in which L'Aquila is located), "You are not alone, the Pope is with you. I am praying for you and I will come to see you as soon as possible." Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesperson, confirmed that the Holy Father will make a trip to L'Aquila soon but it will not be this week. In the meantime, like the rest of us, the Holy Father prays.
I've been following the aftermath of the earthquake in Italy for a few days now, sending messages to friends living the area and waiting for their reply before I can breathe easy again. Aftershocks, if you can call them that, continue to strike the region--some registering magnitudes of up to 5.6. To put that in perspective, the last earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest (that's the Seattle/Vancouver area of the West Coast, which sits directly on a fault line) registered a magnitude of 4.3.
In the midst of the fear and sadness there are moments of joy. Today's headlines in the Italian press are proclaiming a miracle: Eleonora, a 20 year old student was rescued alive after being trapped for 43 hours in the ruins of a university residence. A friend living one story above her was killed in the quake, but the building crumbled in such a way that several fortified concrete pillars created a protective niche around Eleonora as she lay in bed. Although her one arm was broken and and her legs were trapped, she was alive.
Upon hearing that the student housing building had collapsed, Eleonora's Father and one Uncle drove from her hometown of Rimini on the Adriatic coast to L'Aquila, where Eleonora lived and attended university. You see, Eleonora is also severely hearing impaired and wears a hearing aid that she removes at night. Her family was concerned that Eleonora wouldn't have known what was happening and wouldn't be able to hear rescuers calling to her. Fearing the worst, but praying for the best, her family rushed to be at the scene. Their prayers and waiting paid off.
Tuesday night, digging among the rubble, a firefighter from Venice, volunteering along with his squadron in the quake zone, spotted Eleonora and heard her faint cries. It took five hours of careful digging and reinforcing the crumbled structure, but the firefighters managed to pull Eleonora out of her protective cave into the light of day. Her father and uncle were beside themselves, needless to say. The fireman who found Eleonora and orchestrated the rescue told ANSA news service, "A rescue like that is worth six months of volunteering."
The reality is that Eleonora's rescue is truly a miracle, as the rescue mission turns into a recovery mission that will continue through the Easter weekend and then turn towards determining which buildings are habitable and, finally, finding more permanent solutions for those who cannot return home. Fear runs high. As one friend reported via e-mail, the main church in her town--about 100 km away from the epicenter of the quake in Pescara--is inaccessible, as are many homes in the town. Many people are sleeping in tents or, like my friend and her family, in their car.
The Canadian Red Cross is working with the Italian Red Cross to provide assistance to workers in the quake zone. For more information about how to help through the Canadian Red Cross, visit their website.

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