ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Mario Draghi paid tribute Tuesday to the nearly 300 victims of a 2016 earthquake that devastated entire towns in central Italy and he vowed to accelerate reconstruction efforts after five years of stall.
Draghi laid a commemorative wreath at the monument to victims in Amatrice on the fifth anniversary of the disaster and then took part in a Mass on a nearby soccer field attended by local residents and celebrated by the bishop of nearby Rieti.
“In the past it was slow, but now the situation is different,” Draghi told a committee of residents, according to a statement from his office. “Reconstruction work is proceeding faster. I’m here to bring you the confidence and commitment of the government.”
A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Amatrice and nearby towns at 3:36 a.m. on Aug. 24, 2016, the first of more than a dozen temblors that rattled much of central Italy over the following months and left thousands of people homeless. Of all the people killed in the quake, some 237 were buried under the rubble of Amatrice, a medieval hill town that is the birthplace of Italy’s famed Amatriciana pasta dish.
Government officials vowed to rebuild Amatrice’s crumbled historic center and other nearby towns, but Italy’s notorious bureaucracy slowed the effort to a crawl. Recently, though, the government-appointed commissioner for reconstruction announced that the project was speeding up amid a streamlined process to approve plans and funding.
In a June update on the status of the reconstruction, the commissioner’s office reported that 12,000 homes had been built and work was underway at 5,000 more sites.
To date, residents and business owners have made requests for reconstruction funding totaling 5.4 billion euros; a third of the 10,000 requests authorized to date received approval in the first six months of this year, the report said.