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JCU professor caught in quake

April 23rd, 2009

Santa Casciani, associate professor of Italian language and literature at John Carroll University, was caught amidst the deadliest earthquake to strike Italy in decades. Casciani, who survived the earthquake without injury, was a witness to the devastating aftermath of the earthquake that destroyed a town and left 270 dead, thousands injured and even more homeless.

Casciani was visiting her mother in her small hometown of L’Aquila, Italy, when the earthquake erupted at 3 a.m. on Monday, April 6. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake was centered in L’Aquila, but affected more than 26 villages.

The earthquake’s vibrations were felt in cities like Rome, which is over 70 miles west of L’Aquila, and where five JCU students were when the earthquake struck. The students, who are studying at the University of Loyola Chicago John Felice Rome Center, were not harmed.

Junior Matt Collins said, “At the time of the quake I felt this giant tremor that shook the whole room. After the quake it was dead silent, an eerie silence almost.”

Each JCU student experiencing their first earthquake, searched for confirmation after the event.

Junior Laura Nowiki said, “Everyone went into the hallway and talked about what just happened. It was real.”

Although the students felt the effects of the earthquake, they realized that other areas experienced more devastating effects.

Junior TJ Disanto said, “Our part of the country was very lucky, but north of us was L’Aquila and they received significant damage.”

Channel 3 News was able to reach Casciani in L’Aquila following the earthquake.

“The earth shook for what felt like five minutes. Then the lights went off. I couldn’t figure out what was happening,” Casciani told them via cell phone.

Casciani’s colleagues and friends from JCU made many unsuccessful attempts to contact her once news broke about the earthquake.

Luigi Ferri, a visiting assistant professor of Italian language and literature at JCU, was one of the first to try to contact Casciani.

After reading about the earthquake Monday morning, Ferri made the connection that Casciani was caught in the middle of the disaster.

After trying to call for two days, Ferri was finally able to reach Casciani’s cell phone on the Wednesday following the earthquake.

“It is easy to imagine how happy I was when I finally heard her voice,” said Ferri. “That meant that she was alive.”

Ferri discovered that both Casciani and her mother survived the quake, but their house was damaged and their town was left in ruins.

However, amidst the chaos, Casciani was concerned for others in the village and her JCU students.

“Already the next day she was clearly focusing on positive, pro-active things: Taking care of her mother, helping others around the hospital where they were staying, talking to other people. I will never forget that, even during the very first telephone call, she was worrying about JCU students who were supposed to participate in the Summer Institute in Abruzzo,” said Ferri.

Casciani will return to teach at JCU for the 2009 fall semester. Until then, she will remain in L’Aquila with her mother to help with recovery efforts.

Friends and colleagues continue to wish her all the best, but Ferri knows she’ll be okay.

“I believe in her. She has all the inner power to overcome the effects of this tragedy,” said Ferri.