Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Ulster woman visits home wrecked in Italian quake

Oonagh Darby and her husband Bruno lost five of their friends and their home is completely ruined

A woman from Northern Ireland who lost her home during last week’s Italian earthquake has told of her first traumatic visit to the site which has now been reduced to rubble.

Oonagh Darby from Antrim and her husband Bruno Chiacchiararelli travelled from Rome to Villa Sant’Angelo on Saturday after the village was declared safe to enter following the tragedy.

Cities and villages were levelled and hundreds of people died — including five of the couple’s friends — in the central Italian region of Abruzzo during the quake that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Oonagh (47) said their second home, in which they had invested their life savings, has been completely devastated.

“Our house is still standing but it couldn’t be lived in,” she said.

“A fireman took my husband and I to see it separately, as the area is still too dangerous.

“The neighbour’s house came down on top of it.

“We don’t know if anything can be salvaged or if it will have to be pulled to the ground.

“We only bought the house last May after saving up for a good 10 years, so this is a big blow. We put everything into it.”

When the earthquake struck last Monday afternoon, claiming the lives of 17 villagers, Oonagh and her 47-year-old husband were at work in Rome.

But the couple — who believe they were fortunate not to have been there at the time — received devastating confirmation of the deaths of their friends on Tuesday morning.

Their funerals were held with those of other victims in a joint service in the regional capital of L’Aquila last week.

“We were relieved we weren’t there and didn’t experience what so many others experienced,” she said.

“My mother-in-law uses crutches and we keep thinking how we wouldn’t have been able to get her out if we had to leave in an emergency.

“We had a lucky escape — if the quake had happened over Easter we would have been there.”

Last weekend Oonagh and Bruno — who foster Okcana, a 12-year-old girl from Belarus — also paid a special visit to the displaced residents now living in tents in an area at the bottom of the town.

“We brought them clothes and food,” Oonagh, who works in administration, said.

“We were pleased to see they are being very well looked after.

“A canteen has been set up where they eat their meals.

“People are very appreciative, but devastated at the same time. They are experiencing a mixture of feelings.”

She added: “Everyone just wants their homes back — but nobody knows when that is going to be.”

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