Filip Jelavić, Ana Jovičić, Petar Jovičić, Vedran Lovinčić, Toni Renaud
© Filip Jelavić

Young Zagrepčani do free post-earthquake emergency work

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It's over a week since Zagreb's earthquake. If it were not for the Coronavirus lockdown, by now you'd expect things to be getting back to normal. Like the people who once walked here, the streets are now empty of the rubble and masonry felled by the earthquake. But, much damage remains, hidden atop buildings and inside apartments.

It is this concealed damage which still brings one group of young Zagrepčani (Zagreb residents) onto the streets each day, travelling from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in response to pleas from the people. What started out as repairs to their own roofs, then their neighbour's, has become an effort rolled out to anyone who asks for help.

Filip Jelavić, Ana Jovičić, Petar Jovičić, Vedran Lovinčić, Toni Renaud

© Filip Jelavić

'I was surprised at all the damage we saw,' says martial arts coach and lawyer Filip Jelavić, one of the five friends answering the calls for help. 'In the media, we all saw the same photographs of pieces of buildings which had fallen onto cars or the road. But, all the photographs were taken on the ground. When you go high up, you can really see a different level of damage.'

Alongside his girlfriend Ana Jovičić, her brother Petar Jovičić and two longstanding friends, Vedran Lovinčić and Toni Renaud, Filip has spent the past week in the apartments of strangers, on ladders above their dwellings, or down in the street fashioning makeshift and essential repairs.

Speaking to Time Out Croatia from his home on Tuesday 31 March, Filip is out of action today. 'I ended up in hospital yesterday after working on one building,' he says, with regret. 'I got some dust and small rocks in my eyes and couldn't get them out by myself.'
It's the first real respite he's had since the earthquake. As word spread about the friends undertakings, they were inundated with calls from helpless residents. As many as 100 people a day were contacting them in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

'At first, people were asking us to deal with dislodged chimneys,' he says. 'Many were hanging precariously over the edges of roofs. They could have easily fallen down onto the pavements in a strong wind or another tremor. City services are doing a good job, although resources such as cranes and firemen's ladders have been extremely limited.'

In more recent days, they've been an important point of reference for residents who just don't know where to turn for advice or help. Ana co-ordinates their works and answers those who contact the team, while Filip leads operations on the ground. Their roles have now partially shifted to referring people to the relevant city services, NGOs or charities who can step in to offer further assistance. This slight relaxation in urgency offers essential breathing space for the rest of the team; Petar, a hands-on craftsman with a knowledge of many practical skills, and Vedran and Toni, who put their back into anything they're asked to do. However, the five are still out in the streets daily, working over eight hours for free in their community. 'Many people have been offering us money, as a way of saying thanks,' says Filip, ' but we always refuse.'

Filip Jelavić, Ana Jovičić, Petar Jovičić, Vedran Lovinčić, Toni Renaud

© Filip Jelavić

'It's important to adhere to the government advice about Coronavirus,' says Filip when asked if he has any recommendations for how others should respond. 'The spread of the virus is the last thing we need right now. But, if you are in a position to safely help your neighbours, maybe you could consider doing it, especially if you have any kind of specific skill.'

With most of the team's normal day routines and obligations halted by Coronavirus, their time has been freed enough for them to take on this voluntary work. Filip does take his laptop with him in their van and occasionally must break away to apply himself online, although he admits it's often difficult for him to remember whether it's a regular working day or not.

'It's true,' he says cheerily. 'It's been so non-stop that we never know which day it is. That always makes us laugh. Not all of our time has been spent facing seriousness or concern. The most heartwarming thing we've experienced though is the gratitude you get from helping these people. You can see it in their eyes, you can see it in their faces.'

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