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World

Tourists Step Up To Help Residents Rocked By Central Italy Quake

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's five days since an earthquake struck central Italy. It killed at least 290 people. Emergency workers are still looking for bodies. The quake destroyed entire villages. It damaged churches and Medieval art. But even in towns where there was no physical destruction, people there are feeling the effects of the quake. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Elisabetta Mancini is watering pots of geraniums at her bed and breakfast in Ascoli Piceno. This mid-sized town is about a 40 minute drive from stricken hilltop villages such as Amatrice and Accumoli. Nothing was damaged here, nothing that you can see. Mancini says the constant aftershocks are unnerving.

ELISABETTA MANCINI: (Through interpreter) The major quake last week was terrifying, and all these aftershocks are unsettling and scary. Every time they happen, it just brings you back to the big one.

BEARDSLEY: The veranda of Mancini's bed and breakfast looks out over the Tronto river and the regional town of Ascoli Piceno. She says the economic aftershocks of the quake are also debilitating.

MANCINI: (Through interpreter) We are not just morally depressed because of all the death and destruction caused by the quake, but economically, this will be a disaster. We've had lots of cancellations. My business is practically empty for the next month.

BEARDSLEY: The Italian government says it will rebuild the destroyed villages, but it will take time, and first the rubble must be cleared away. There will also be investigations into fraudulent construction and possible Mafia involvement in lucrative building contracts, hardly the kinds of topics that encourage tourism.

There were plenty of tourists in Italy when the quake shook. Some dropped their itineraries to come help. One of the only navigable roads into Amatrice is clogged with bulldozers and Italian emergency crews. A small group is making its way up the side of the road, young people wearing hard hats and carrying a bag of ropes. Jacup Oochnio and Anna Burovska tell me who they are.

JACUP OOCHNIO: Yes, we are from Poland.

ANNA BUROVSKA: We were on holidays.

OOCHNIO: And we cut off our holidays to came here and try to help. We go to the earthquake place because we working like a rescue man in Poland - cave rescue group. And...

BUROVSKA: We just want to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING WATER)

BEARDSLEY: At a cafe in the central piazza of Ascoli Piceno, Portuguese student Bernardo Peixoto has discarded his backpack and is having a cold drink. He spent the day working with Italian Civil Protection, handing out food, water and medicine to displaced people. He had just arrived in Venice when he heard about the earthquake.

BERNARDO PEIXOTO: I couldn't be here in the same country, having my holydays with my backpacking and visiting museums and drinking beers. When people in Amatrice were needing someone to help.

BEARDSLEY: Peixoto says many times you can help with just a kind word and a smile, and it doesn't cost a thing.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Ascoli Piceno, Italy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.