A 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy in the early morning of Aug. 23, resulting in three flattened towns and 291 deaths. BYU-Hawaii students with ties to Italy said their hearts were startled.
Amatrice, Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto were the worst affected towns and villages. More than 400 were injured.
The quake was felt across a large section of central Italy. It was followed by more than 470 tremors, the greatest of which was a 4.3 magnitude aftershock.
“About 5,000 rescuers have been working to find survivors in the hilltop towns and villages that were devastated by the quake. Dozens of people were pulled out alive by rescue teams and volunteers that poured in from around Italy,” according to AP.
Ben Papeo, a BYUH alumnus in psychology from the Italian island of Sardinia, said he had “a mix of feelings.” He said, “Of course it is unpleasant news. You’re not happy about what happened, but at the same time, I wasn’t surprised at all because that area of the country gets a lot of earthquakes.”
Papeo said none of his family members were affected and he doesn’t know anyone who was personally and directly affected by it.
“Even if its a weak earthquake, it happens on a regular basis so you know it’s gonna come,” he said.
However, it came as more of a shock to Tyrell Gemmell, a sophomore in psychology from New Zealand, who served in the Italy Rome Mission.
Gemmell said, “During the early hours of the morning, I was woken by a message on my phone saying that some friends had marked themselves as safe during the earthquake. It was about three or four in the morning and I wondered, ‘Wait…there was an earthquake?’”
Gemmell looked online and was able to find information and news updates about the earthquake. “I was a little shocked and concerned especially for a lot of the people that I taught there,” he said. “I thought of the people that I grew to love and thought, ‘Dang, that’s my family.’”
A few of those loved ones were directly affected, Gemmell said. “One of my converts was holidaying around that area. She was just on vacation and she was injured. A big chunk of a building fell and crushed her leg. She’s okay now and it’s healing. Also one man that we almost taught had his house destroyed. In the aftermath, he and his wife were actually staying in a chicken coup. It’s really sad.”
The Associated Press reported that “emergency services set up tent cities around the quake-devastated towns to accommodate the homeless.”
The Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, said he would allocate €50 million ($56.5 million) in funds to help the disaster-struck area.
The last quake of this portion was in 2009, when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the city of L’Aquila and resulted in a death toll of 309. Italy is known for its history with earthquakes.
Marissa Jones, a senior from Arizona in secondary education, served in the Italy Milan Mission. Jones said she wishes she could be in Italy right now so she could help.
“An earthquake happening anywhere is very sad and terrible,” said Jones. “But because I know their culture and the people there, I can picture what’s happening.”
Jones continued, “They’re very religious people, and I’m sure they are praying their hearts out right now and doing everything they can to help those who are still trapped, suffering, and have lost family.”
Parker Lovett, a senior majoring in English from California, also served in the Italy Milan Mission. He said his initial reaction was absolute sadness because he feels so close to the Italian people.
“My first instinct was to pray for them,” said Lovett. “I’ve messaged a few of them to see how they are doing. They know that I love them dearly.”
Lovett said he hopes all of the renovations will run smoothly. “I hope all those who are affected know that the sorrow won’t be there very long. I hope they can see that there is greater hope for them in the near future.”