Italy Quake Reconstruction to Cost at Least $16 Billion

The region in central Italy ravaged by an earthquake more than a week ago will need at least $16 billion for rebuilding, the country's interior minister said.

As some children started going back to school, experts were assessing the damage at buildings that were still standing. Prosecutors were investigating alleged shoddy construction in the area.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the government would consult with local administrators, including opposition officials, while it seeks resources to rebuild the Abruzzo region. Maroni provided the estimate late Tuesday on state television.

The 6.3-magnitude quake that struck on April 6 killed 294 people. It leveled or damaged tens of thousands of homes and other buildings.

Of the 1,467 buildings checked as of Monday, 53 percent were deemed habitable, while the rest had various degrees of damage that made them at least temporarily uninhabitable, the Civil Protection Department said.

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Local officials said the figure estimated by Maroni was credible. The cost of reconstruction after the last major quake in Italy, in 1997, was euro8 billion for the hardest-hit Umbria region, though so far only euro5.3 billion has been spent, local officials said. Another euro4 billion was needed in the nearby Marche region, also damaged by the quake.

The Abruzzo earthquake displaced 55,000 people — including 33,000 who are living in the tent camps set up across the region.

Officials say they aim to have people out of the tent cities by winter, which is frigid in the mountainous Abruzzo region. Not all of the 55,000 are homeless — many left their homes out of fear amid continuing aftershocks, which are still being felt by the population.

"Many families will be able to go back once they have been reassured," said Agostino Miozzo of the Civil Protection Department.

"By the end of October, we have to do everything possible so that people who today live in tent camps are given a different solution," Miozzo said. Possible solutions include putting up families in buildings that were empty before the quake or building prefab homes, he said.

Meanwhile, some children in the quake zone began returning to school on Wednesday, some attending classes in the tent camps where they now live.

"Welcome back everybody!" read a sign at the makeshift classroom in a tent camp in L'Aquila. Children of mixed age were given pens and sheets of papers to draw and do math.

Other students were sent to attend class in a nearby region not touched by the quake.

In the coming days, Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government is expected to approve specially tailored recovery measures, which reports say could include new taxes to help the rebuilding effort.

So far, it has approved subsidies for families and business owners, and blocked payments on mortgages and loans until the end of the year.

Berlusconi, who has visited the quake-hit area, is expected to lead a symbolic Cabinet meeting in L'Aquila next week — a way to signal the government's continuing commitment. The premier held a Cabinet meeting in Naples at the height of the garbage collection crisis last year.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in L'Aquila have opened an investigation into allegedly shoddy construction practices in the area, a factor blamed for many of the deaths in the temblor. Experts were looking at the materials and projects used in the collapsed buildings.

"Buildings that were supposed to be cement, modern, anti-seismic ones and so on, have collapsed miserably," chief L'Aquila prosecutor Alfredo Rossini said. He blamed those responsible for "causing innocent deaths."

The prosecutors vowed to remain vigilant during the reconstruction to ensure new homes are up to code and prevent infiltration by organized crime in building projects.