MIRANDOLA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy raised tax on petrol to help pay for the damage from an earthquake that struck northern Italy as shaken survivors woke up on Wednesday to a landscape of collapsed warehouses and ruined factories.
Overnight 14,000 people slept in tents, shelters or cars outside their wrecked homes and more than 60 aftershocks jolted the area around the city of Modena in the Emilia Romagna region.
Some who were not assigned a shelter by civil protection units had to travel as far as Verona, 100 km (60 miles) away to buy tents.
Most of the 17 known victims perished under the rubble while at work when a 5.8-magnitude tremor struck shortly after 0700 GMT on Tuesday, the second strong earthquake to strike the area in nine days.
The residents of one of Italy’s most productive regions, dominated by the fertile valley of the River Po, are now torn between the fear of more tremors and the fear of losing their jobs in the recession-hit country.
“After the first quake many people went back to work because there is an economic crisis here and they wanted to save their jobs,” said Mauro Baraldini, whose two sons survived when the factories where they worked collapsed in the quake.
“Now they will think twice before going back.”
Several factories in the area around Modena, a flatland dotted with manufacturing plants, farms and vineyards, had opened on Monday after a week of stoppage due to the previous tremor.
Mario Monti’s government, which has already imposed austerity measures to head off a debt crisis, said it was raising excise duties on petrol by 2 cents per liter to fund earthquake relief. National spending curbs on local authorities will also be suspended for the towns hit by the quake.
Mirandola, birthplace of Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and home to a cluster of biomedical firms, was one of the towns hardest hit by both earthquakes.
Two workers and a company owner died under the rubble in the second tremor and on Wednesday supplies were already running low in a local bar mainly serving coffee to victims after it ran out of ice creams.
Dozens of residents who could not enter their homes pedaled around on bicycles, some stopping to look wistfully towards the cordoned off city centre.
“We had put workers on an temporary lay-off scheme but we were working to get things back working,” said Stefano Rimondi, Chief Executive of Bellco, outside its damaged biomedical plant.
“That plan has now gone out of the window. This is a big blow for us, but also for the sector.”
Listed biomedical group Sorin, also based in Mirandola, had to halt production at its local factory.
Italy’s big business association Confindustria said the two quakes, which together killed more than 20 people, will have a prolonged impact, adding to an already deep recession in the euro zone’s third largest economy.
Farmers’ association Coldiretti estimated damage to the agricultural sector would reach 500 million euros.
“It’s a total disaster. Many people here were already under a temporarily lay-off scheme because of the crisis. Now everything has stopped and we do not know when things will start again,” said 32-year-old Alex, who works in a ceramic factory near San Felice sul Panaro, another badly-affected town.
A psychologist was called to the scene in San Felice to help survivors overcome the trauma.
Italy has been hit by numerous earthquakes over the centuries. In Irpinia, near Naples, more than 2,000 people died in 1980 and aftershocks lasted for years. In central L’Aquila, where a quake killed some 300 people in 2009, 21,000 residents have not yet returned to their homes.
National Geophysical Institute head Stefano Gresta said tremors could continue to hit the Modena area, couched in the Po valley and pressed against the Appennine mountains, for months.
Environment Minister Corrado Clini said Italy must learn lessons from the fact that the quake had hit a region considered at relatively low seismic risk. The last big quake in Emilia Romagna struck in 1570.
While pessimism prevailed in San Felice sul Panaro, some residents were still focusing on the need to get back to work before the economic crisis deepened and more jobs were lost.
“I’m not scared,” said Claudio Furia, who works at farm equipment maker Vam. “I want to work and go back to normality.”
Writing by Lisa Jucca; Additional reporting by Antonella Ciancio and Sara Rossi, editing by Gavin Jones and Angus MacSwan