As they walked through rows and rows of coffins, the reality of the last few days undoubtedly hit home hard for the families of those who died in the recent Italian earthquake. What they perhaps didn’t expect to see, however, was the heartbreaking sight of a dog lay still and silent beside his master’s coffin.
On August 24, 2016, a 6.2-magnitude quake struck 65 miles north-east of Rome at 3:36 a.m. Throughout the night and for several days following, aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 and higher continued to rattle the region.
The shallow temblors had struck along the spine of Italy’s mountainous central region turning 14th- and 15th-century iconic buildings in the medieval towns of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto to rubble. Its origin was nearest the town of Accumoli.
Despite a 1974 national law to reinforce such antiquated structures, however, the old villages were apparently not up to code. When the tremors hit, then, the crumbling homes, churches and other buildings killed nearly 300 people, wounded as many more and left dozens missing. In Amatrice, for example, the mayor later declared “half the town no longer exists.”
Thankfully, a quick response from emergency services helped to save hundreds of people trapped beneath the rubble. For instance, more than 4,000 rescuers participated in the mission using machinery and their bare hands in an attempt to find any survivors.
Suspiciously, however, it wasn’t just old buildings that the rescuers were digging through. No, even a modern-built school collapsed in one village. This apparently left many to question the involvement of Italy’s mafia in overseeing construction and renovation efforts.
Of course, regardless of who was at fault for the lapse in reinforcement policies, hundreds of lives are now lost forever. For now, then, the survivors are turning their attention to the heartbreaking task of burying their loved ones.
Four days after the quake, for instance, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared a state of emergency – allowing authorities to tap into an estimated $55 million earthquake relief fund. Meanwhile, President Sergio Mattarella attended a state funeral for the disaster’s victims.
Due to the high level of fatalities, and the few remaining structures available in some of the villages, communal buildings were turned into makeshift morgues and funeral homes. While in the historic town of Ascoli Piceno, 35 coffins were laid out in a gymnasium ahead of a state funeral for the earthquake’s victims.
Among the caskets to be laid out in the hall were those of a nine-year-old girl and an eighteen-month-old toddler. “Hello little one. I am sorry that we arrived late. You had already stopped breathing, but I want you to know up there that we did all we could to get you out of there,” reads the heartbreaking note on one of their coffins.
Addressing the families of those in the hall, Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole said, “Don’t be afraid to bewail your suffering, we have seen so much suffering. But I ask you not to lose your courage. Only together can we rebuild our houses and churches. Above all, together we can give life back to our communities.”
In one particularly poignant video from the hall, family members can be seen grieving their loved ones. Some sit silently; one woman lies beside a coffin with her arm draped across the top. Then, the camera flicks to a dog.
The blond cocker spaniel lies alongside one of the caskets, resting its head on the ground. Sadly, inside the coffin are the remains of the dog’s owner.
It seems that the loyal dog, named Flash, refused to leave his owner Andrea Cossu’s side, even after death. It was reported that the 45-year-old Cossu died when a building collapsed on him in the village of Pescara del Tronto, where he had been vacationing.
When Cossu’s body was taken to the gymnasium ahead of his funeral, then, Flash refused to leave his master. According to Cossu’s relatives, this was nothing new, as the pair had been “inseparable” throughout their time together.
Cossu was born on the Italian island of Sardinia, but lived in Rome with his wife and Flash. Tragically, Cossu was one of the many victims who had traveled from Rome and other Italian cities to spend a summer vacation in the stunning mountain region.
His funeral was held days after the earthquake, when his body was returned to the Roman suburb of Pomezia where he lived. Fortunately, Flash will now be taken care of by Cossu’s widow. A Facebook page remembering Cossu documents the special bond between human and dog.
But Flash hasn’t been the only animal to hit headlines in the wake of the Italian earthquake. For instance, one woman told reporters how her German Shepherd began acting strangely in the moments before the quake. In the middle of the night, it seems, he started tugging on her shirt and pulled her outside of her home, saving her life in the process.
Then, almost a week after the deadly quake, a cat named Joy was found alive in the rubble of her collapsed house. Rescuers found Joy as they dug through the rubble with a bulldozer. She was extremely dehydrated but is expected to make a full recovery.
In the agonizing days that followed the original quake, Joy’s owner Daniela refused to give up hope on her beloved four-legged friend. Like Flash’s story, Joy’s demonstrates the strong bond humans have with their pets, even during times of adversity, and how important these animals are in our lives.