After the Avalanche: Finding Solace in the Snow

This week I was going to publish an article about homesickness but I’ve put that on hold for now to talk about recent events here in Italy.

I moved to Abruzzo, specifically Sulmona, three years ago. I found myself in this quaint little mountain town, expecting to stay for five months and then move on. As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, that didn’t happen.

For over two and a half years, I lived here quite happily, enjoying the beautiful scenery, the food, the calm pace of life. Yes, the bureaucracy was frustrating sometimes but having not spent longer than 18 months in any other place, I was content to put some roots down. So many thing s contributed to this decision but for me, Sulmona was as good a spot as any to slow down, if not stop.

All was going well but then the 24 of August 2016 hit. My first experience of an earthquake that made the house shake in the middle of the night. I wasn’t too fazed by it but I was sad, and angry, about the loss of life. You can read my thoughts on that experience here.

A few months later, at the end of October, we suffered a series of even stronger earthquakes. Luckily the death toll was low due to most people having been evacuated. For me though, it was a terrifying experience. I felt my building sway like a tree house in the wind. With my partner, we packed some things, grabbed the cats and headed to my sister’s in-laws’ to spend a sleepless night on a sofa bed. Thoughts of leaving Sulmona were starting to creep in but, as the months went on, I still didn’t want to leave the town that I had made my home.

Then the events of last week struck. More earthquakes, heavy snow, blizzards and an avalanche. I’m sure you’ve all heard about it by now. I was skyping with my dad when they hit – three earthquakes in quick succession. The house seemed to sway for an eternity. This was not good news. Again, we got our things together and headed out into the snowstorm, cats in tow.

Early news reports seemed positive – no new victims. That was until the evening when news of the avalanche at Hotel Rigopiano began to spread. Up to 30 dead. A week later, 11 survivors have been found, 23 are dead and 6 are still missing. There are stories of emergency calls being passed off as hoaxes and snowploughs not being sent but I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on the men and women who have been working tirelessly to find survivors. Men and women who perhaps many of us only think about in times of need. Men and women who are volunteers and don’t get paid to risk their lives to save others. Men and women who have spent a week on a mountain, working in terrible and dangerous conditions, taking turns to eat and sleep, trying not to lose hope.

To the first responders who trekked for nine hours through a blizzard to reach the hotel, I say thank you.

To the fire fighters who are digging with their hands for survivors, I say thank you.

To the army men and women who are fighting to get to areas cut off by the snow, I say thank you.

To the paramedics who treated the injured, I say thank you.

To the volunteers from the Red Cross and other charities, I say thank you.

To the doctors and nurses on call and working shifts to help the victims, I say thank you.

To all emergency service workers across the world, I say thank you.

Thank you for helping us, being there for us, saving us. Without you, we couldn’t survive. Our politicians may not appreciate you; they may cut your pay and make you work harder, but we appreciate you.

Below are some positive photos from the rescue mission and the past week to show the love and appreciation these people deserve.

After writing this, I heard the news of a helicopter crash here in Abruzzo. 6 people died – the full rescue team and the person being rescued. Two of the men on board had attended the avalanche at Hotel Rigopiano. This goes to show that they are willing to pay the ultimate price for us.


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