“Building something where we used to destroy something”

A few hours before the start of the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) visited the earthquake-ravaged town of Onna. That's where Germany – 60 years after a Nazi massacre – has concentrated its disaster relief efforts for Abruzzo. Together with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Merkel walked through the rubble of Onna on Wednesday to the square main square with the collapsed church, which is to be rebuilt with German funds.

The chancellor thanked the population for the opportunity to help. She said she was glad "after Germany did such damage and such horrors here in 1944, (to) be able to show: The world has changed," she said. The reconstruction of the church with federal funds also has a symbolic value, she said: "Now we can finally build something where we destroyed something before."With her visit she wanted to get "a personal impression of the extent of the destruction," she said.She met local citizens who are staying in the neighboring tent camp and are thrilled with the support of the nine members of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW). Merkel shook their hands and greeted them in Italian with "Buon giorno". As thanks for German help, children presented her with a bouquet of sunflowers and white roses. In addition, against the backdrop of collapsed houses, she received a small bag of white beans, a specialty of local agriculture. Merkel thanked with "mille grazie".The Italian authorities had left the rubble of the village, 90 percent of which had been destroyed, in place until the G-8 summit, especially for this visit. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, for example, used the joint walk with the chancellor in Onna to enhance his reputation, damaged by scandals surrounding his private life, by projecting the image of a helper in the rubble. He promised the residents they could move into the wooden houses being built between the destroyed village and the tent camp in September.In Onna, unlike elsewhere in Abruzzo, the construction of the wooden houses is progressing rapidly because of Germany's commitment.Originally, the residents, like the population of other destroyed hamlets, were to have been housed in central tent camps far from their homes and moved into new neighborhoods of prefabricated houses. Fearing that this solution would separate them from their roots and – unlike wooden shelters – become a permanent home, the inhabitants of Onna, strengthened by German presence, successfully resisted the relocation.The 280 residents of the Onna tent camp are relying primarily on Germany for reconstruction, although the German government is only building the church and the THW, in addition to installing pipes and cables in the tent camp, is only helping to salvage personal belongings and art monuments such as portals hundreds of years old from the rubble.The twin town of Rottweil is planning to build a community center in Onna. However, since the residents are entitled to financing for their private homes from the Italian government, Germany is only indirectly involved in the reconstruction of the homes, for example by providing technical assistance for earthquake safety measures."Here there is a lack of everything. What have we got left," says Marco Diassini in a dragging voice. He rides in a wheelchair along the dusty paths of Onna's tent city during the chancellor's visit. He trusts in the Germans, he says. He shrugs off questions about Italian promises of speedy reconstruction.Patrizia Calegaro is also "very happy" about the visit from Germany. Like Diassini, she can't hold back tears as she recounts how her father happened to pass through Onna, fell in love and married after a few months "because this was a beautiful place". After weeks of energetic optimism and amazement, the earthquake of 6. Having survived the earthquake of April, the G-8 summit, moved to L'Aquila especially for the earthquake victims, has brought despair back to the surface."Women must take matters into their own hands," Chancellor tells Onna residents suffering from sweltering heat despite air conditioning in tents. "I wish you much strength for this."

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