The organizer of next month’s G8 conference near the earthquake-hit Italian town of L’Aquila on Tuesday shrugged off the strong aftershocks felt in the area on Monday, suggesting a few tremors may bring the world leaders closer to the victims.
“I cannot guarantee there won’t be any shocks” at the July 8 to July 10 meeting, said the head of the civil protection department, Guido Bertolaso. “It is important that leaders touch with their own hands the anxieties of inhabitants.”
Nearly 300 people were killed and more than 60,000 made homeless by the earthquake that struck the central Abruzzo region on April 6. In an attempt to bring attention to the plight of survivors, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to shift the G8 meeting from a plush new conference center in Sardinia to a financial police training barracks outside L’Aquila.
But while the G8 leaders may be in no danger of the ceiling collapsing on them, they should not expect luxury, Bertolaso said.
“This will not be like staying on Via Veneto,” he said, adding that the nearest tent city to the barracks is 300m away.
All the world leaders attending have confirmed they will sleep at the barracks, he said, including Berlusconi.
After US$450 million was spent on new buildings to host the leaders in Sardinia, Bertolaso said US$70 million had been spent on preparing the barracks.
The 1,000 beds provided for leaders and their staff will be removed after the meeting and installed in new tremor-proof housing being built for the 15,000 to 18,000 earthquake victims whose homes were reduced to rubble and must be rebuilt.
But Bertolaso said one leader would be allowed a treat when he checks in next month. “There is a beautiful room ready for [US President Barack] Obama and we are thinking of setting up a basketball court because we know he is keen on the sport,” he said.
The 4.6 magnitude aftershock that struck the area on Monday night caused no major damage or injuries, but sent hundreds of frightened locals scrambling from their tents.
Bertolaso said the barracks due to house the 1,000 G8 delegates would stand up to worse punishment than that dished out on Monday or on April 6.
“International inspectors have confirmed the safety of the housing,” he said. “It will resist an earthquake stronger than any recorded there so far.”