Day 2 in Norcia has brought new challenges and a better sense of the damage, both physical and spiritual. The community departed Wednesday afternoon, 12 hours after the earthquake hit, for a temporary stay (Deo Volente, just 3 or 4 days) at St. Anselmo. While we hope they aren’t away for long and that it is safe enough for them to return soon, they are in fact in solidarity with most of the town of Norcia. Many townspeople have decided to sleep in their cars, in tents outside the city or with relatives elsewhere. The physical damage does not resemble in any way the tragic images coming out of Amatrice, just 30 miles away. Here in Norcia, nearly all the buildings appear from the outside to be intact and stable. But the reality is many have suffered structural damage that makes them uninhabitable. In addition, secondary shocks have been coming every 15-20 minutes. Some today have been as high as 4.2.
We monks who remained, staying in tents, have returned to the days of our youth, and are camping out in the garden area of the our monastery outside the walls. The tents were positioned far from any buildings so the we were not in danger, but tremors throughout the night made sleeping difficult — as did the occasional sound of wild boar in the woods! Restorations to our property outside the city walls (Fuori Le Mura) had only recently started. Restoration work on the Church was made with the latest anti-earthquake materials and, thanks be to God, it has mostly withstood the tremors.
Today, we monks made rounds in town and visited locals at their businesses and found many sad faces. Norcia thrives on tourism and citizens often earn enough in August to keep them going all year round. Not this year. The main hotel in town, that of the Bianconi family, went from 500 guests the night of the quake, to 20 the day after. Norcia is like a ghost town, except for journalists, aid workers and architects who wander around the town each trying in their own way to bring relief of some sort.
We have no specifics to share yet regarding damages we’ve faced, though we know they are extensive. Because of the frequent aftershocks, inspections were suspended earlier in the day. The bells are not ringing for prayer as we don’t know yet if the tower is safe, and the monks are praying for Norcia from Rome, where St. Benedict himself was once sent to study. We checked on the Poor Claire Nuns and Benedictine Nuns today and found the former without any damage to their convent, but the latter, the daughters of St. Scholastica, are sleeping in the laundry room while they assess damages.
We’ve begun drawing up plans for a campaign to help not just the monks but the other religious and lay faithful in town and we’ll pass those along in due course. For now, we continue to rely on your prayers and support.