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Monday, December 8, 1997 Published at 09:12 GMT


Basilica opens doors after earthquake
image: [ The Basilica, battered by tremors ]
The Basilica, battered by tremors

The lower church of the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi in central Italy is reopening, two months after it was badly damaged by earthquakes.

Twelve people were killed and thousands left homeless after tremors rocked the area. Now the reopening of the church is seen as a key part of the rebuilding process.

But the BBC's Rome correspondent, Orla Guerin, says it is taking a long time to repair damage across the region.

And it is still unclear if anything can be done to salvage the priceless frescoes in the upper church of the Basilica, which is unlikely to reopen before the year 2000.

The Basilica is only one cultural treasure out of many hit by the quakes. Central Italy is crowded with important heritage sites and 70% of them need significant repair work, according to the Italian culture ministry.

The government has already said it will provide $15m (9.6m) to cover the cost of initial repairs.

But that is only a fraction of what may be needed. In all, the estimate for the damage caused to Central Italy is put at more than $2bn (1.3bn).

The human cost of the disaster has also been high. With the onset of winter, most of the people who were made homeless by the series of quakes - which began on September 26 - are still in temporary emergency accommodation with limited facilities.

Italy's civil defence says many of those whose houses still stand are too scared to go back to them.

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Internet Links

Assisi web tourist guide book

Art tour of the Basilica

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