Italy's coalition government criticized for poor earthquake relief

One week after an earthquake devastated Italy's southern region, political reverberations over the slowness and inefficiency of relief operations are threatening the coalition government of Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani.

Mr. Forlani's interior minister, Virginio Rognoni, resigned Nov. 27 after President Sandro Pertini bitterly accused the government of failing to bring speedy and adequate relief to the victims. The President added that "those who made the mistakes must be punished." The resignation was rejected by Prime Minister Forlani, observers feel, to avoid the fall of his government.

The mayors of 13 towns and villages hit by the quake sent a telegram to President Pertini saying that 2,647 homes had been damaged and 10,784 people were homeless yet there had been "an almost total absence of action by the central government."

Il mattino, a Naples daily, published a series of articles last week demanding answers to such questions as why unsafe buildings were constructed in seismic areas, and whether bribes were paid to officials to turn a blind eye.

As the government in Rome faced the barrage of criticism about its handling of the crisis, police said the death toll from the Nov. 23 quake, which devastated 100 towns and villages, had risen to 2,843 with 1,357 people still not accounted for and nearly 8,000 injured.

Despite heavy rain storms and new tremors that shook the region Nov. 30, help from all over Italy and abroad is getting in and reports of survivors being plucked from the rubble are giving fresh hope to weary relief workers. The government says some 20,000 people were at work in the disaster area.

The Italian government announced Nov. 26 that $1.3 billion would be allocated to aid the hard-hit southern region. Every family that lost its breadwinner in Sunday's earthquake is to receive an immediate grant of $11,000. Families who lost any other relative would receive $4,400, and those who lost their possessions $3,300. Half the $1.3 billion will be used for the urgent task of giving shelter to the homeless, while the rest is for restoration of essential services and the individual grants.

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