Residents of Amatrice, Italy search for victims in the rubble after a powerful 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit on August 24, 2016.

Residents of Amatrice, Italy search for victims in the rubble after a powerful 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit on August 24, 2016.

Deborah Ball, the Italy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, gives us the latest on Tuesday night’s deadly 6.2 magnitude earthquake north of Rome.


  • Deborah Ball Italy bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal


  • 11:06:53

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a station visit down at WUNC in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina. For the last several years, instability in the Middle East and North Africa has threatened cultural heritage sites in the cradle of civilization. There's been the intentional destruction of ancient monuments and treasures, a spike in looting and damage to antiquities as the byproduct of warfare.

  • 11:07:24

    MR. TOM GJELTENBut along with these new threats have come new efforts to protect the world's antiquities. Joining me in the studio to discuss this are Tess Davis of the Antiquities Coalition and Gary Vikan, former director of The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. We also have archeologist Sarah Parcak from a studio at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

  • 11:07:46

    MR. TOM GJELTENAnd from WOUB in Athens, Ohio, former Syrian antiquities official, Amr al-Azm. Hello to all of you and thanks for joining us.

  • 11:07:55

    MR. GARY VIKANGood morning.

  • 11:07:57

    MS. TESS DAVISGood morning.

  • 11:07:57


  • 11:07:57


  • 11:07:58

    GJELTENWe want to hear your own thoughts on this important problem and what you think should be done about it. Call us a 1-800-433-8850. Email us, is our address. You can send in your comments and your questions via Facebook as well. But before we get into this important discussion, let's get an update on today's earthquake in Italy. Two towns in central Italy have been left in ruins. Dozens are dead, many more injured.

  • 11:08:29

    GJELTENJoining us now by phone from Tuscany is Deborah Ball. She's the Italy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. And Deborah, I'm sure it's a really busy day for you. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

  • 11:08:41

    MS. DEBORAH BALLNo problem.

  • 11:08:43

    GJELTENSo we're just getting some initial reports. CNN is just reported 73 may be dead from this earthquake. What do you know about the situation at this point?

  • 11:08:58

    BALLYeah, the civil protection agency here just confirmed about an hour ago that at least 73 people are confirmed dead in the earthquake. The death toll is likely to rise in the next hours, given that two of the towns right at the epicenter of the earthquake were entirely flattened. There's one hotel in which reports are saying that it was entirely full. It was all booked out for the August season here. Has been flattened.

  • 11:09:30

    BALLSo it seems likely that the death toll will go a whole lot higher, unfortunately.

  • 11:09:35

    GJELTENSo tell us a little bit about these towns. You say there was a hotel. I’m assuming there were tourists there. Are these -- where are these towns and, you know, what are they known for?

  • 11:09:46

    BALLYeah, these towns -- actually, they're not well known. They wouldn't be known to foreigners at all. I mean, the epicenter of the quake was about 100 miles north east of Rome near a town named Norcia up in the mountains, the Apennines, basically the central chunk of the Apennine Mountains that run along the whole -- sort of whole boot of Italy. These are mountain towns way up high, actually. They're towns that -- one is called Amatrice, which is -- gave the world pasta all'amatriciana, which is, you know, probably its biggest -- it's claim to fame.

  • 11:10:20

    BALLOtherwise, they are tiny towns. One of them had only 700 people. The other one had 2600 people. So in some ways, if there is sort of a positive to take away from this at all, that if this had struck a larger town, undoubtedly more people would have died. It is a small, small, tiny town. At the same time, since they're high up in the mountains, rescue workers had a hard time reaching them. They had to use a lot of helicopters to get -- to take people away. It definitely has slowed down the rescue efforts overnight.

  • 11:10:55

    GJELTENAnd has the damage, as far as you know, been limited to that area? Again, it's probably good that it's remote. You know, what have you heard about how this was felt or affected in Rome, for example?

  • 11:11:05

    BALLIt was felt in Rome and in Bologna -- as far as Bologna and even Florence, Perugia, some other larger towns. But there was no major damage or really even very little damage, remarkably, has been reported elsewhere. No damage to works of art. Of course, if anybody recalls the 1997 earthquake in Assisi, which brought down the vaulted ceiling in the cathedral there. We haven't had any of those sorts of reports so far. So it's -- while the earthquake was very violent, because that area is so reasonably sparsely populated, the damage was limited, really strictly to these small towns.

  • 11:11:49

    GJELTENYou know, we're talking the rest of the show today about the loss of antiquities. And, of course, Rome is so full -- Italy is so full of treasures. But as far as you know, there hasn't been any comparable damage as there was in Assisi to cultural treasures.

  • 11:12:08

    BALLNo, no, nothing at all like that. There's been -- in the cathedral in Urbino, which is not that far, there's some cracks perhaps. But it does raise the issue, though, of whether -- I mean, probably this is -- this earthquake is raising the issue once again of what Italy does or doesn't do to protect not just people and its buildings, but certainly its works of art because Italy sits on, I guess, where two tectonic plates meet between Europe and Africa. So earthquakes -- this is a country that's like California and Japan.

  • 11:12:42

    BALLI mean, earthquakes are not uncommon at all. So the fact is that they -- Italy has -- particularly small towns, particularly remote areas have not done what they should to shore up buildings, some of them very, very old, to introduce anti-earthquake, anti-seismic, you know, new structures and whatnot. And so the damage tends to be quite big. These two towns, for instance, that are up there, called (word?) have been absolutely flattened. I'm sure you've seen the images there.

  • 11:13:12

    BALLThere's really nothing left. The entire populations of those two towns have now been evacuated and it's -- these are -- I couldn't imagine how they could ever reconstruct those towns. So it does get to the problem of Italy's response to these sorts of natural disasters.

  • 11:13:26

    GJELTENAnd Deborah, you're saying that the Italian authorities haven't really learned sufficient lessons from Assisi earthquake?

  • 11:13:34

    BALLThere's a number of -- natural disasters in general, it's a very unstable geography here. We have lots of landslides almost -- it's really pretty frequently. There's not a year that doesn't go by we don't have sort of a major incident. Part of the problem is illegal building in very many areas, particularly in the south. It's been a chronic problem around Naples and Sicily, even in Liguria in the north, we have a lot of illegal building. And then, when you have a big rain or you have an earthquake, they haven't been built to spec.

  • 11:14:02

    BALLAnd so they come down sort of like a house of cards. Oftentimes, the Italian government runs amnesty so you have a lot of illegal building and then they'll just sort of allow them to stay or they don't address them at all. And that's the major problem. A lot of these regulations are local regulations and a lot of conflict between the local regulations and national regulations. So it's done in kind of on a spot basis. There are towns that are very diligent about taking care of these things and others that either don’t have the resources or the governance to really address these problems.

  • 11:14:31

    BALLAnd it looks like this area -- this area is in the epicenter of one of the most earthquake prone areas of Italy and clearly, they should have done more to protect the people who live there.

  • 11:14:43

    GJELTENOkay. That's Deborah Ball. She is the Rome bureau chief -- the Italy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. I know it's a busy day for you, Deborah. Thanks very much for sharing this update with us.

  • 11:14:52

    BALLThank you.

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows

A Push To Improve America’s Nursing Homes

Thursday, Sep 28 2023The Biden administration has released a proposal  to raise standards in nursing homes. Why one expert calls it the most significant development for the industry in decades -- and why it might still not be enough.