L'Aquila: A rugby club in mourning
At 03:32 on 6 April the Italian town of L'Aquila was struck by an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, Italy’s worst for 300 years.
Two hundred and ninety-four people were killed, among them 20-year-old prop forward Lorenzo Sebastiani, who was found dead in the ruins by one of his coaches.
Sebastiani represented his country in last year's Junior World Championship in Wales and his death has left a black cloud over the rugby club, which is at the heart of the town and whose members have played a leading role in the rescue and recovery operation.
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Many went straight to the local hospital which was badly damaged and helped carry the patients to safety. Others dug with their bare hands to search for survivors.
“I spotted a girl downstairs who was screaming and so I went to take her out. She was in despair wondering where her parents were,” recalled the club’s full back Dario Pallotta.
“I went upstairs to find rubble and debris everywhere with water tubes broken and an awful smell of gas and broken stairs. I kicked the door open and brought the man all the way downstairs and then, while picking up an elderly lady, there was a second shake which made another side of the house crash down.
“The old lady was telling me to leave her behind, but I wouldn't have left her dying.”
L’Aquila’s Director of Rugby Giovanni Alfonsetti immediately made the club and its facilities available as a place of refuge and shelter to those who had been made homeless.,
“It was a big shock,” he said. “Many deceased, almost 300. The pitch was used as a place to come together, just like in rugby we come together, and L’Aquila being a rugby town, everyone thought they would find comfort here.”
Thousands made homeless
Thousands of homes may have to be knocked down in the town and the reality for the rugby players is equally uncertain, but they remain determined to play on in memory of their team mate Sebastiani.
“We have to come to terms with the fact that we live and play rugby for a city that doesn't exist at the moment,” said fellow forward Maurizio Zaffiri. “We live in a place where there is no hospital, no university, no schools and where life has become really difficult.
“This is what my team is faced with. Our team mate is dead, we can't do anything about that. I believe our commitment as dedicated players is the incentive to play even better so that we can please Lorenzo, as if he is watching us from the sky.”
The support flooding in from the rugby community in Italy and abroad has been incredible, with clubs sending food, toys, volunteers and money.
And the heroic efforts of the club itself were recognised by the town’s Mayor, Massimo Cialente.
“Some of them rescued wounded people from the rubble, they played a big part in that, but the most moving thing is that our team, right from the start, went to the hospital, which suffered serious damage,” he said.
“They were the ones who helped evacuate the patients from danger, carrying them away as our lifts were out of order.
“They moved all the elderly and long-term patients and brought them away. The staff told me that if it wasn't for them they wouldn't have been able to cope.”
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