Nuns, Priest and Past Quake Survivors Escape Death in Italy

Some witnessed their houses collapse into debris and dust, while the homes of others are still standing but deemed too unsafe to live in

Among the survivors of the devastating earthquake that struck central Italy on Wednesday are nuns, priests and a lucky few who also escaped unscathed from earlier quakes. Some witnessed their houses collapse into debris and dust, while the homes of others are still standing but deemed too unsafe to live in. At least 250 have been killed and rescuers are frantically searching Thursday for those still trapped in the rubble. 

Here is a look at some of the survivors of the tragedy, their stories of escape and how they're coping: 

Violeta Bratu survived a strong earthquake in her native Romania in 1977 that killed 1,500 when she was just eight years old. After Wednesday's quake, she arranged to evacuate the 97-year-old man she cares for with his hospital-style bed because their home was deemed uninhabitable.

They sought shelter in a sports center on the edge of Amatrice, where the bedridden Antonio Putini lied under his plaid wood blanket, which Bratu brought from home hoping it would give him some comfort.

"I said without him I am not going anywhere," she recalled sitting next to Putini, who was attached to oxygen.

Putini slept through the earthquake and his son drove up after to help bring him and Bratu to safety. At Putini's feet rested Bratu's dog, a white Bishon Maltese.

"It's the only thing of mine here," she said. 

Several elderly women were enjoying a reprieve from the summer heat in care of nuns in a convent in Amatrice, a medieval hilltop town. When the quake struck, half of the convent collapsed, apparently killing three nuns and four elderly women.

Sister Mariana, a 32-year-old from Albania, was one of three nuns and an elderly woman who survived because they were in a part of the convent that was not fully destroyed.

She said the other survivors escaped holding hands.

"They saved each other, they took their hands even while it was falling apart, and they ran, and they survived," she said.

She is now being cared for by her fellow nuns in Ascoli Piceno to the east, and was being checked out at a local hospital after being wounded on her forehead and inhaling dust. 

A Polish priest, the Rev. Krzysztof Kozlowski, was trapped in his destroyed home in Accumoli for several hours before he was pulled out on Wednesday. His next-door neighbors all died and he attributes his own survival to a miracle.

As he waited for help he experienced the terror of aftershocks, fearing they would bring down the rest of the structure.

"Even as I was waiting for help, for someone to bring me out of the apartment, I could feel the tremors. I was afraid they could destroy whatever was left of my house," the priest told the Polish broadcaster TVN.

The priest, who had served in Accumoli for the past two years, said his next door neighbors, a family with a 6-year-old child and an 8-month-old baby, died.

"This is a great miracle for me. My neighbors died. I was miraculously saved, rescued by a rescue team. I was born anew," Kozlowski said. 

For Giuseppe, the reality of the loss was sinking in on Thursday after the shock of the first day of the earthquake. As he stood in front of his damaged home in Saletta, a district of Amatrice, he contemplated the scope of help he will need to return to normal life.

"Right after the quake everything was mad, you couldn't even understand if you were still alive or not," Giuseppe, who wouldn't give his last name, told The Associated Press. "Today is a bit better; we are hopeful that help will come. We need help because we don't have anything any longer."

"We are waiting to get help because it's the only solution that we have," he said.

Still, Giuseppe, who lived alone, was luckier than many around him. Where other homes collapsed, his only showed cracks and his life was never in danger. 

A Polish woman who survived the earthquake in Amatrice with her family says she will never forget the "evil murmur of moving walls."

Ewa Szwaja said on Polish TVN24 in Amatrice on Thursday that she and her husband were woken by tremors and a "terrible noise."

"I will remember till the end of my life this noise, the evil murmur of moving walls," she said, also describing the huge relief of seeing that their 4-year-old son Mateusz, who slept in their room, was alive.

They put on some warm clothes and the family escaped through the balcony.

"The house in front had collapsed and we stepped from the balcony onto the rubble. The bedroom of our neighbors did not exist anymore."

In the darkness they could hear calls for help.

"From everywhere people were calling "aiuto! aiuto!" but we could not help them because they were under the rubble."

"Our neighbors, my son's friends and their mom died under the rubble," Szwaja said fighting back tears. "Their father was doing the night shift and was saved."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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