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1997: Earthquakes rock central Italy
Two earthquakes have killed 10 people and severely damaged priceless art treasures in central Italy.

One of the most valuable works of art destroyed was the cycle of frescoes at the upper church of the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.

The first earthquake struck at 0233 local time and measured 5.6 on the Richter scale. The second tremor followed just over 10 hours later and was slightly more powerful.

The epicentre was in the Apennine hills, and several other towns close to Assisi were also affected.

The cathedrals of Orvieto, Urbino, Bevagna and Fabriano are all reported to have cracks in the stonework.

But the worst damage was sustained in Assisi where rescuers have been working throughout the night with miniature bulldozers to shift tons of rubble in the search for survivors.

The cycle of frescoes at the Assisi Basilica by Bencivieni di Pepo Cimabue is said by experts to be fundamental to the history of Western art.

Castantino Centoni, the government official responsible for the region's artwork, said practically nothing of it was left.

We lifted up our heads and saw fragments of the basilica falling on us
Serigio Fusetti
Four people also died in the church, killed by the falling rubble.

Serigio Fusetti was in the upper church with Mr Centoni inspecting the damage of the first earthquake when the second more powerful tremor hit.

"When the shock happened we lifted up our heads and saw fragments of the basilica falling on us. We were about thirty people at the time.

"Some of us began to run and we were pulling the others along with our hands. The monks who died were behind me," he said.

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In Context
Parts of the lower church of the Basilica reopened its doors in November 1997.

During the restoration of the upper church, engineers installed special wires designed to stretch and snap back like elastic during an earthquake to help protect against future tremors.

The reconstruction of the complex was finally completed in November 1999 at a cost of $50m (31.1m).

Many residents of Assisi complained the church was finished before they were re-housed after being forced to move out of their earthquake-damaged homes.

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