Local University Takes In Displaced Earthquake Victims

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Twenty-four students, shaken out of their homes now have a chance for a fresh start. They'll make their new home at Lake Tahoe.

Back in April, a devastating 6.3 earthquake destroyed the University of L'Aquila in Italy, halting the education of nearly 30,000 students. But thanks to a Nevada college, they're heading back to school.

More than 1,000 people were injured in the quake, and several hundred were killed. Many of those victims were college students. Dozens were trapped in a collapsed college dormitory and the campus was nearly demolished.

Earthquake survivors Marco Ciafarone and Ilaria Salvati were lucky. With just two buildings at University of L'Aquila left standing, they were forced to take their latest exams in a tent. Both of them say it's a miracle they're alive, but the night of the quake is one they'll never forget.

"Terrible noises around you. People shouting. Animals, things like that," said Ciafarone.

"I thought I was dreaming. It was unbelievable. Everything was shaking. I was scared and I didn't know what to do," said Salvati, who hid under a desk during the shaker.

Once the quake was over, reality set in. Without a school, the students say continuing their studies seemed hopeless, until three weeks ago.

The National Italian American Foundation, or NIAF, reached out to American colleges that could take in some of the displaced students and pay their way. Bob Maxson, president of Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, says, with annual tuition fees of $35,000, he doubted it was possible--but it turned out, he was wrong.

"I think it was pure generosity, the most charitable effort you can imagine," said Maxson, about the outreach the college received.

Prominent local donors came to the rescue, helping the school raise the more than half-a-million dollars needed to bring the 24 students from utter devastation to a school located next to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

"It's like a movie. I can't believe I am here. I am very happy and very, how do you say? Grateful,' said Ciafarone.

Now Ciafarone can continue his studies of arts and music, and Salvati can finish her degree in Global Management. They, like most of the students, have never been to the U.S. before, and say they plan to make sure every second counts.

"For now, I am going to try to get the best out of everything. I want to learn to ski, to snowboard," said Salvati.

All 24 students are on a one-year scholarship while their school is being rebuilt. They seem to be enjoying all the one-on-one attention. After all, they came from a school of 27,000, and they only have to share their new college campus with a little over 1,000 students. Some call it "paradise."

The public is welcome to participate in this ongoing program to assist these Italian students, and for anyone interested and wanting more information, they are invited to contact Vice President of Development Madylon Meiling at 775.881.7522 or mmeiling@sierranevada.edu.