Federer reveals goal after 'painful' 2016

Federer was last in action in July when he suffered a semifinal defeat to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon, with a knee injury having sidelined him since, ruling him out of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The same injury means the 35-year-old will also miss out on the US Open, which gets underway on August 29, while he will be absent from the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in November as well.

The Swiss, however, is confident of a return to fitness in time for the first grand slam of 2017, which commences in Melbourne on January 16.

“I’m working for the Australian Open,” Federer said at an event in New York. “I’m doing well.”

It’s not just the latter half of 2016 that has left the 17-time grand slam winner feeling frustrated, with the first few months also proving to be a tough experience for him.

Federer was forced to undergo surgery on his knee in February, while a back injury saw him have to pull out of the French Open.

“I never thought I’d have a year like this. I’ve learned a lot from this year,” Federer said.

“It’s painful being here in New York [not playing in the US Open], and it was painful during the Olympics because I love competing. But you can’t have it all.

“It was a tough decision to say the least — going out of Rio, the US Open, the World Tour Finals. But in some ways it ended up being a simple decision. Health is my number one thing.”

Laver Cup launch

Federer was speaking at an event in New York to launch the Laver Cup — a tournament named after Australian tennis legend Rod Laver, which will see a European team take on a Rest of the World side next year.

Former tennis greats Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe will captain the respective teams, with rivals Federer and Spaniard Rafael Nadal set to line up alongside each other for the first ever time in the doubles.

“I think it’s going to absolutely unbelievable, to be on the same side of the net as Rafa, finally,” Federer said.

“He has the biggest forehand and now I can actually support him and say, ‘Hey, we want more!

“I will get so much joy out of it. I can’t wait to play doubles with Rafa.”

The inaugural Laver Cup competition will be held at the 02 Arena in Prague from September 22-24, 2017.

Italy quake highlights our vulnerability to disaster

These conversations start in the hours after a disaster, as they always do. They may last a news cycle and hopefully longer, but eventually they fade. They fade like the hopes of the affected families, who eventually become buried not just in the rubble of their homes but under a pile of national and international priorities that are seemingly more important than what happened to them on the day of the disaster.

There are few who will look at the images from Italy and consider that this could as easily have been them — their community, their family, their home. We comfort ourselves when we look at Amatrice and blame the aged buildings.

We may remind ourselves that we don’t live on a fault. However, it matters less how old those buildings were or even less that this destruction was at the hands of a relatively modest magnitude 6.2 earthquake.

If it is not an earthquake, then it is a tsunami, a hurricane or a tornado. No one can predict with certainty when the next will strike, a fact particularly relevant in the context of Italy, where seismologists have historically been held under deep scrutiny. And even if the natural disaster can be predicted and tracked on a radar to enable evacuations and save lives, its impacts and devastation cannot be mitigated as easily.

The simple fact is that development has concentrated the world’s lives and property in some of its most hazard-prone areas. The inevitable result is potential for particularly large life and economic loss, something that has unfortunately been confirmed far too often by such devastation.

It is a devastation that does not discriminate: earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand, tsunamis in Southeast Asia and Japan. More often than not, it is not the magnitude of the event, but the vulnerability of its target. All we need do is look at Superstorm Sandy for a powerful reminder on our own shores. These disasters expose the frailty and vulnerability of not just a community’s infrastructure, but also the frailty and vulnerability of our perspectives on risk and resilience.

As much as every disaster uniquely teaches us how to improve our capacity for response and recovery, there is one intervention that diminishes the needs for such plans: addressing the vulnerability of our infrastructure in the first place.

Not just our public infrastructure, whose weakened condition in America has been widely documented, but our private investments, the homes where our children should feel safe. Addressing this vulnerability in a lasting way transcends simply understanding the scientific or engineering dimensions.

We have seen before the vulnerability of unreinforced masonry construction. Whether the handiwork of ancient builders of the Mediterranean or the desperate attempts of a father to shelter his family in an informal settlement outside Port-au-Prince, these vulnerabilities are well understood.

While engineers and scientists bear some responsibility in ensuring that such knowledge is effectively conveyed to stakeholders, officials and the public, what is more important today is to beg the bigger question of why vulnerable construction persists in the first place. Uncovering those root causes are even more critical than the technical aspects of why buildings fall down.

As we learned in Haiti, Amatrice will reveal its own unique story of how complex social, political and economic forces intertwined to allow seismic risks to silently persist. The factors driving their acceptance have been long-present and are not unique to Italy. They require deep introspection to uncover and even greater courage to address.

Why Italian region wasn't prepared for earthquake

Problems that are easy to solve would have been solved already. Achieving disaster-resilient and sustainable communities is not an easy problem, but one worth solving. If not for the families of Haiti, Nepal, Ecuador and now Italy, then for the families of the next disaster.

There are other Amatrices, just like there were other Port-au-Princes, silently waiting for their vulnerabilities to be exposed at nature’s hands. They dot the fault lines and coasts of developed and developing nations, governments that are prepared and unprepared, economies that are thriving and stagnant.

As an engineer who views it as our ethical duty to fight for all vulnerable communities, the only solace I can find in the events of the last several days is the hope that this event provides the harsh light under which much needed remedies will finally be born. This is not the first time this light was turned on, and unless we keep the conversation going, keep that light shining and bravely step into it, not just the day afterward, but every day, it won’t be the last.

McIlroy 'glad to be proven wrong' about Olympics

But it turns out he did tune into some of the golf after all.

On Wednesday, ahead of the start of The Barclays in Farmingdale, New York, McIlroy gave a chuckle during his press conference when he was asked if he watched the Olympics.

“I saw Henrik (Stenson) and Justin (Rose’s) fairway woods (shots) at the last (hole),” McIlroy said.

“I saw the chip shots, I saw the putts, and I saw the medal ceremony. I spent the weekend at my in-laws’ cabin in upstate New York where there was no TV, no electricity, so actually didn’t get to see much of anything that weekend. We got back Sunday afternoon, so (I) caught up with it.

“It pleasantly surprised me. There were more people at the golf event than there was at the athletics, so it was good to see. It really was. It seemed like it was a great atmosphere down there.”

McIlroy added that Rose, who held off Stenson for the gold medal, was “the right winner” in the end.

“Justin was a great winner,” McIlroy said. “He was on board from the start.”

Rory McIlroy: Golfer pulls out of Rio 2016 over Zika fear
Back in July, in a press conference before the Open Championship at Troon, McIlroy had made the comments about what he planned to watch during the Olympic Games. His answer: “Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving. The stuff that matters.”

Golf, which returned to the Olympic Games after a 112-year absence, was going to get lost, McIlroy previously had concluded.

“To see the turnout and see the crowd and everything, I was glad to be somewhat proven wrong,” he said.

As for Jordan Spieth, he said he not only watched it, but now he wishes he had played.

“I really enjoyed it,” Spieth said. “It came off, I thought — tremendous for the game. I enjoyed watching the finish to the Olympics, and I wished I was there.

“At the time I made the decision, it was the right decision for me. I told you guys in that (Open Championship) press conference it was the hardest thing that I’ve had to do. The potential for regret was going to be there, and it certainly was while I was watching.”

Jordan Spieth joins list of top golfers skipping Rio Olympics

However, Dustin Johnson — another golfer who skipped the Olympic tournament — remains unmoved by golf’s successful rebirth in Rio.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Olympics or what golf tournament it is, I don’t really want to watch it,” Johnson said Wednesday.

“I play enough golf. I don’t need to watch.”

France wrong on burkini ban (Opinion)

More than a dozen French cities, along with some towns in other European countries, have banned the so-called burkini, a bathing suit designed for Muslim women who want to cover more of their body than a bikini or a regular one-piece bathing suit does.

With that, French authorities, aiming to protect women’s freedoms, have missed their mark by a mile.

First, women should be allowed to wear what they want. The decision should not be up to men, police, or even society at large. And that should be the case for all women, no matter where they live — whether it is Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran or the French Riviera.

Second, the places where women face the harshest, most oppressive restrictions on that basic expression of human dignity — the right to wear the clothes you choose — is not France or other parts of Western Europe. It is in countries ruled by theocratic regimes; countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and territories controlled by the so-called Islamic State or ISIS.

Trump doesn't understand what Sharia is

So it is a travesty that we are even discussing a violation of that right in France, one of the freest, most liberal countries on earth. Indeed, the ban on the burkini has handed a victory to Islamists and to other Muslims who want to restrict women’s freedoms. And it has set back the cause of women’s empowerment.

Police patrolling the promenade des Anglais beach in Nice fine a woman for wearing a burkini on August 24, 2016.

It is already easy to imagine how the ISIS propaganda department will make the most of the image now making the rounds in social media — a Muslim woman on the beach in Nice, surrounded by four male policemen requiring her to take off her burkini. The picture, the law, the decision, play right into the hands of Islamists who claim the West’s so-called liberation of women is really the opposite, a way to humiliate them and exploit their sexuality.

Meanwhile, the new rules will inevitably produce exactly the opposite of their intended effect. They will make clothing even more of a political statement. They will alienate part of the population rather than encouraging liberalism and integration.

Even setting aside the propaganda fodder it offers extremists, it is simply unacceptable for the government in a modern, liberal democracy (just as it should be anywhere else) to tell people what they should wear. It is particularly galling to see men ordering women on the subject.

The French, as well as other liberal European societies, want to prevent Muslim communities from changing the character of their country. That is a legitimate concern. After all, they fought revolutions and shed blood to create a free nation. But this is the wrong way to go about it.

If they want laws and police involvement to protect their freedoms, they should make it illegal for a father, a husband or a brother to force his daughter, wife or sister to wear restrictive clothing against her will. If an adult woman wants to wear a bikini at the beach in Cannes, she should be allowed to do it.

The law should prohibit men from forcing women to wear a niqab, which allows only a slit for the eyes; a burqa, which drapes over the entire body, including the face; or even a simple hair-covering hijab. Adult women should be allowed to make their own decisions.

How to stop the cycle of hate

When it comes to the face-covering garments, such as the burqa or niqab, I believe the government has a legitimate security claim in wanting individuals in public places to be identifiable. Beyond security concerns, I find the niqab and burqa deeply dehumanizing, not least because they relegate women to beings without an identity. The burqa, common in Afghanistan, is also cumbersome and impractical, making it more difficult to for someone to see.

The right of women to wear comfortable clothing of their own choosing is, in my view, a most fundamental of human rights. Yet it is a right that is violated every day in many countries. Millions of women endure draconian clothing restrictions every day of their lives. And while Islam dictates that women dress modestly, the definition of modesty is up for interpretation. Plus, the interpreters are usually men.

In Saudi Arabia, women are required to cover up with a dark, loose cloak. Saudi women often wear beautiful, fashionable clothing, but in public they cover up, whether they want to or not. In Iran, women chafe under requirements that they keep their hair covered and wear some type of an overcoat or cloak. In both countries, religious police guard against violations, a deeply offensive affront, particularly to modern women.

In territories where ISIS rules, women are subjected to lashings if they wear the wrong outfits. They are required to wear double-layered veils, niqabs, full-body chadors, as well as gloves.

In all these places, summer temperatures add even more physical distress to the insult.

In many countries where the law does not create formal restrictions, social pressures have the same effect, forcing women to wear clothes they might not otherwise choose. It is not uncommon to see men on vacation wearing shorts, while women swelter wrapped in yards of dark cloth.

In Egypt, for example, social pressures have made the hijab much more prevalent. But that has not been enough to prevent a pandemic of sexual harassment. A U.N. survey in 2013 found 99% of Egyptian women said they had been victims of harassment, and that was true even for women wearing the face-covering niqab.

All this suggests that if the French want to free women from the oppression of restrictive clothing, they should promote freedom. They should make the case for why everyone, including all women of all religions, should have the freedom to wear what they want. This not only would send a signal of support to women living in countries where they experience much harsher repression, but might mean we see fewer burkinis on Europe’s beaches — for the right reason, because people were free to choose.

Burkini bans: Is France turning into Iran?

If you look at the headlines coming out of France, you might conclude that the country’s famous brand of “laicite,” or secularism, is now being defended by a theocracy that would give Iran a run for its money.

Pictures of a Muslim woman surrounded by armed police on a beach in Nice have rightly caused an outcry. The images show the condescending way law enforcement officers forced the women to undress, while her children watched.

France seems to have completely turned against Western liberal values — and there’s a danger that France no longer looks any different from Iran or any other theocratic state, where religious police patrol the streets, monitoring women in public places, and checking whether or not they are following the rules. 

The only difference is that France is suffocating individual freedoms in the name of “protecting secularism,” while Iran and others do so to “protect religious identity.” Both have a distinct absence of liberal pluralism that the Western world has so far taken for granted. Extreme secularism in France looks no different to extreme Shia ideology in Iran.

As an American Muslim citizen raised in Syria, I am in shocked by these pictures. Growing up in Damascus, life used to offer a cultural pluralism that most now take for granted. Throughout the Middle East, people look at countries in the West in awe, seeing laws that are enacted to guarantee an individual’s right to practice their faith and live freely without chains or fear.

A turning point in the West?

Burkini ban: Police in Nice force woman to remove part of clothing

But we are at a fundamental crossroads — one that is causing those of us who care about upholding these values to worry that this may no longer be the case in the future.

This isn’t a problem only in France and Iran. Left and right, we’re seeing a growing polarization of the political sphere, from Donald Trump in America to Jeremy Corbyn in Britain.

This move toward the extremities should be cause for concern for all those who want to uphold the liberal, centrist values that the West has historically fought for. Not purely because illiberalism is at odds with our nature, but because if we choose to allow this culture to creep into our political life, incidents like what happened to an innocent Muslim French citizen Tuesday could become the norm. 

‘Don’t give illiberal populism space to breathe’

A woman wears a burkini, on a beach near Tunis, Tunisia.

If we give these sorts of populist “movements” the space to flourish, the Western millennial generation will be forced to spend their adult lives living in an atmosphere the Western world is no longer accustomed to. 

This is a generation who’ve rightly grown up taking Western values for granted. As children they were told that they should live and let live, to appreciate and thrive on the intrinsic differences that some seek to divide us on. 

You can see that in the way young people overwhelmingly voted in favor of staying in the European Union. It may sound trite, but they want to be able to enjoy the beach in peace, whatever they are wearing.

We’ve advanced beyond illiberalism, beyond accepting hate and division as a way of life, beyond the insecurity that drives such actions.

The answer has to be a revived, renewed political center as the only political thought capable of owning and enhancing these values. The alternative allows extreme illiberal populism the space to create the type of atmosphere that will lead to more incidents like we’ve seen in Nice.

Putin blasts 'humiliating' Paralympics ban decision

“I feel sorry for those who make such decisions as they cannot but understand that they are humiliating themselves,” Putin said at an event in Moscow Thursday, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news agency.

“The decision to suspend our Paralympians is beyond all boundaries of legal norms, moral principles and humanity.

“This is simply cynical to work frustration off on those who see sport as their sense to live, those who inspire with hope and belief millions of people with limited physical abilities.”

Protest petition

When first announcing the ban, IPC president Philip Craven said the governing body had “enormous sympathy” for the athletes missing out on the Paralympics, but they had ultimately been failed by Russia’s “medals-over-morals mentality.”

Many in Russia disagree with Craven and the IPC, however, with a online petition labeling the ban “inhuman” and calling for Russian athletes to be allowed to compete in Rio independently. It has received 300,000 signatures of support.
Several Russian disabled charities, including the All-Russian Society of Disabled People and the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, have also urged the IPC in an open letter to reconsider its stance.

Kseniya Alferova, who helped start the petition, says she feels Russian Paralympians have been let down by the IPC and CAS.

“I’m friends with a lot of Russian Paralympians and their first reaction (to the CAS decision) is that they don’t even want to talk, because they are so shocked,” Alferova told CNN.

“The athletes are very strong, and I think some of them will recover. But I’m afraid some of them will not.

“It’s a very difficult step for them, because they didn’t believe in anything. Now they do. Now they have families, they believe in the future. And this is taking the future from them.”

While 118 of the 389-strong Russian team were banned from competing at this month’s Rio Olympics due to the doping allegations, with individual federations given the responsibility for clearing athletes, the IPC implemented a blanket ban.

Alferova feels the Paralympians should have been handled differently.

“Everyone was sure the decision would be different,” she said. “It has nothing to do with the country; it has to do with the people. The Paralympic Games are not countries, or politics — it’s people. It’s not justice. It’s not right.”

No U-turn

The IPC has since responded to Alferova’s petition, with spokesman Craig Spence stating that Russian Paralympians will not be allowed to compete independently from the Russian Paralympic Committee.

“Under the IPC’s rules, one member is responsible for Russian athletes and that is the Russian Paralympic Committee,” Spence said.

“It has been suspended due to its inability to fulfill its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations. If that member is suspended, then they cannot enter athletes into the Games.”

Spence also echoed Craven’s comments when adding that the athletes have been cheated out of a place at Rio by Russia’s alleged doping violations.

“The athletes should be upset and angry with the officials behind this state-sponsored doping system in Russia,” he told CNN.

“It is because of this system that the Russian Paralympic Committee is suspended. The system needs to change if the suspension is to be lifted.”

Broken dreams

Ludmila Bubnova, who was due to be part of Russia’s first women’s wheelchair tennis Paralympics team, believes an “unfair decision” from the IPC has cost her that dream.

“I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought it was some sort of mistake,” she told CNN. “I underwent doping tests so many times and was never caught up on anything. So why should I be banned from Paralympics if I don’t dope?

“I think the decision was made with politics involved. It’s an unfair decision. I believe that every athlete should be responsible for himself only. Why are you punishing innocent (people)?”

“My dream was to compete at the Paralympics. Sports means everything to me, I couldn’t live without sport,” Bubnova added. “We’ll keep on training, we’ll keep on fighting, we’ll keep on playing — it’s life. Sport is our life.”

London protests over burkini ban

Wearing everything from bikinis to burkas, and even priest cloaks, demonstrators in London built sand castles and brandished signs saying: “Wear what you want.”

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said event organizer Fariah Syed of the burkini ban. “No one, regardless of their religion and race, should be told what they should wear and where they can wear it.

“It’s important to show solidarity because of the spread of Islamophobia around the globe — especially in France.”

Syed was joined by bikini-wearing Natalie, who asked that her last name not be used. “Women ought to be able to make their own choice about what they wear — whether that be a bikini or burkini, it makes no difference,” she said.

Meanwhile, Jenny Dawkins, a Church of England priest, wore her traditional cloaks after hearing about Muslim women “being treated in a way which was totally unacceptable and must have been very intimidating and frightening.”

Dawkins said she was moved to attend the demonstration after seeing pictures of French police overseeing a woman remove part of her clothing on a beach in Nice.

“I think it’s a frightening image,” she said of the photos that emerged Wednesday. “I find it quite chilling to see an image of a woman surrounded by men with guns being told to take her clothes off.”

Police fine a woman in a burkini Wednesday on the beach along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

J.K. Rowling takes aim at Sarkozy

Separately, best-selling British novelist J.K. Rowling criticized former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comments that wearing a burkini was a “provocation.”

“The burkini affair, everybody sees it is a provocation, a provocation for the service of a project of radicalized political Islam,” Sarkozy, a presidential hopeful in 2017, said in a televised interview Wednesday with TF1.
The “Harry Potter” author hit back in a tweet, saying: “So Sarkozy calls the burkini a ‘provocation.’ Whether women cover or uncover their bodies, seems we’re always, always ‘asking for it.'”

London mayor: Women have right to choose

London Mayor Sadiq Khan also weighed in on the burkini debate during a press conference Thursday with his Paris counterpart, Anne Hidalgo.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan meets his Paris counterpart, Anne Hidalgo, in the French capital Thursday.

“I’m a proud feminist,” said Khan, adding: “I don’t think anybody should tell women what to wear or what they shouldn’t wear.”

Antwerp mayor likens burkini to ‘a tent’

Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever, left, with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this year.
Asked in an interview this week with Belgium newspaper De Morgen if he would be implementing a ban on burkinis, Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever said it was a question of taste — “like wearing white socks with sandals.”

“I’ve read the craziest left-wing opinions about it,” he said.

“If I understand it correctly, we have to protect the wearing of the Burkini as the most important milestone in the emancipation of the woman since the bra burnings of the Dolle Mina in the 1970s,” he told the paper, referring to a Dutch feminist group.

“In the past, a Muslim woman could only sit in a tent on the beach. Now she’s allowed to put that tent on and go into the ocean with it. We’re improving.”

Cartoons from the Muslim world

Sudanese artist Khalid Albaih gave his unique take on the ban, depicting a women being ordered to undress in France, and uncover in other parts of the world.

The political cartoonist, who lives in Qatar, has been published in such news outlets as The Atlantic, The Guardian and Al Jazeera.

What’s the view from France?

The bans on overtly religious clothing on French beaches follow a series of terror attacks in the country including a truck rampage in Nice that killed 84, and the stabbing of an 86-year-old priest in northern France, both last month.
France already became the first European country to ban wearing burqas in public in 2011.

And much like the recent burkini bans, opinion in the country is divided between those who see the laws as an infringement on religious freedom, and those who view the Islamic dress as inconsistent with France’s rigorously enforced secularism.

Hervé Lavisse, president of the Cannes-Grasse section of the Human Rights League, told CNN the bans would be counterproductive because “instead of appeasing people, it will inflame tensions.”
But Valérie Boyer — who represents the Bouches-Du-Rhone region as a member of the center-right Les Republicains — previously said in a statement: “Burka, chador, abaya, niqab, hijab, the name doesn’t matter.

“They constitute a confinement of the gender, a negation of the person, a prohibition of liberty, a prohibition equality, a prohibition of fraternity.”

CNN’s Erin McLaughlin and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.

Italy earthquake: By the numbers

250: Latest death toll, which is expected to rise

360: Estimated number of people injured

It’s hard to quantify exactly how many people are still missing or hurt, as many remote towns attract seasonal visitors.

3: Major towns hit

The towns are Amatrice, Arquata del Tronto and Accumoli.

5,400: Estimated number of people involved in rescue efforts

That’s the count for staffers with Italy’s Civil Protection Agency. Other outside groups are helping too.

1,000: Estimated number of people displaced

17: Estimated number of hours a girl was trapped under rubble before she was rescued

6.2: Magnitude of earthquake that hit central Italy

12: Number of major earthquakes in Italy since 2000

The country’s Apennine mountain range sits along a tectonic plate that has been a hotbed for tremors. Most recently in 2009, a 6.3 earthquake struck central Italy and killed 295 people.
Rescuers walk past the rubble of buildings destroyed by an earthquake on April 6, 2009 in Onna, Italy.

Why region wasn't prepared

Other affected towns were mentioned: Arquata del Tronto, Amandola, Pescara del Tronto, Castelluccio di Norcia. This is the first time most Italians have ever heard of many of these places. And that gives a clue as to why rescue operations are so challenging in the wake of the powerful earthquake that struck the region early Wednesday morning.

The devastated region is a maze of old hamlets, built close to one another. These hamlets and villages are beautiful — picturesque and in some cases dating back to Roman and medieval times — with cobbled alleys, frescoed Renaissance churches and gargoyles. Their great appeal is their remoteness and the fact that time seems to have been frozen in the Middle Ages. They’re gorgeous spots for a summer break.

But their biggest appeal to visitors — their remoteness from the rest of the country, the sense of isolation — also creates the biggest challenge when a crisis hits. There are no major highways leading to the now nearly destroyed town of Amatrice; many nearby areas make do with narrow, dusty country roads where a single fallen tree can cut off access. The houses in the area are typically full of character, cozy, and also unstable, made of bricks that easily crumble to the ground.

As a result, when disaster strikes, bulldozers often can’t gain access, and survivors must be searched for with bare hands. The only way to access some isolated villages in a disaster is by helicopter or by going on foot uphill, as volunteers are doing, carrying shovels on their shoulders.

Italy's earthquake is sadly no surprise
Italy has an estimated 20,000 semi-abandoned villages that are rapidly depopulating and turning into virtual ghost towns. In many cases, locals fled after World War II in search of better living conditions, sometimes to try to avoid the type of natural calamity that has rocked the region since its geological birth.

Even when villagers returned, having made their fortunes elsewhere, they would generally give their homes merely a cosmetic makeover — they were often simply second, summer homes — with little to no earthquake-proofing of infrastructure.

Sometimes, these “locals” are actually no longer residents — coming only at weekends or on vacation. This creates an additional challenge when tracking people down after a disaster such as Wednesday’s. Officials in these villages have a hard time establishing exactly how many people are even meant to be in the town. Accumoli, for example, has around 600 permanent residents, spread across 17 subdivisions. But during the summer, vacationers bump that number up to 5,000 or more.

A further challenge is that these off-the-beaten-track destinations also come, almost by definition, with poor mobile and Internet coverage, which is only worsened by a quake that brings down antennas, making it hard for survivors to contact rescue teams.

So none of this should come as a surprise, especially as the quake-stricken area is not just dotted with these ghost towns, but also rises on the Apennine “red belt,” which has the country’s highest seismic risk level. Italy, meanwhile, is the most quake-exposed country in the Mediterranean due to being atop the convergence of the African and Eurasian plates; nearly 7 million Italians live in areas at risk of natural calamities including mudslides and floods.

So, if the challenges are no secret, why all the chaos? The truth is that despite the great work being done by rescuers and volunteers, Italy lacks an adequate prevention plan. Of course, earthquakes themselves cannot be accurately predicted, but efficient reconstruction plans could help prevent natural disasters developing into catastrophe.

After the L’Aquila earthquake in 2009, the government allocated €965 million over seven years for seismic prevention. But this is a fraction of what experts believe is required to upgrade national buildings and roads to help them withstand seismic activity. In addition, regular rescue drills should be held, in rural areas as well as densely populated regions, to help ensure an effective response once disaster hits.

Ultimately, though, Italy’s many small towns and villages will have to make their own preparations, too. Of course, the ideal of a summer retreat cut off from the outside world is appealing for a summer vacation. But a failure to adapt and upgrade infrastructure will keep coming back to haunt even the most idyllic locations when the ground trembles.

Before and after tragedy

“They know right now it’s a race against time. They believe it’s about 72 hours those people would be able to survive,” CNN’s Fred Pleitgen said.

More than 1,000 people have been displaced by the quake, and Italy’s Civil Protection agency said no residents were allowed to sleep in the devastated town of Amatrice overnight.

Before and after images from Amatrice, as well as Pescara del Tronto, a town in the Marche region of Italy, show the extent of the damage: In some places, there are only large stones where buildings once stood. In others, there is only sky.

The clock tower still stands

A clock tower in the center of the mountainous town of Amatrice is frozen at 3:36 a.m. — the time the earthquake struck.

A damaged church in Amatrice

Rescue workers talk logistics on their phones outside the Chiesa Di Sant’Agostino, a heavily damaged church in Amatrice.

Pescara del Tronto is destroyed

The town’s mayor compared its destruction to Aleppo, in Syria, according to the Italian newspaper il Giornale.

Rubble in Arquata del Tronto

A pile of debris is seen at the end of an alley in Arquata del Tronto, which was badly damaged by the quake.

Rescue workers pass by damaged building

The corner of a mountainside building in Arquata del Tronto fell into the street.

The Civil Protection agency said 184 of the 241 people dead are from Amatrice, with a population of around 2,000. “The town is no more,” Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told CNN affiliate Rai.

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