"Give me the milk or I'll kill you" said the man holding a gun in one hand and a crying baby in his other arm after pushing his way to the head of the line at the relief headquarters of the poorest district in Naples, the Stella-San Carlo precinct.
When the man had left, with several cartons of milk and some blankets, precinct head Antonio Cigliano, a socialist, sat down and cried.
"It's not that I was afraid," he said. "It's just that the earthquake has turned us all into beasts and set off a war among the poor."
The earthquake that hit the evening of Nov. 23, killing some 3,000 people in southern Italy, did more than kill 64 people in Naples and terrorize its population of 1.5 million. The quake's devastation also tripled the number of homeless to 50,000 and caused severe problems of public order in a city where life for the poor is already extremely difficult.
Even before the quake hit, Naples was a badly overcrowded city with an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, severe traffic problems, sanitation deficencies that gave it the highest infant mortality rate in Western Europe, and a thriving crime rate that combines small-time cigarette smuggling and big-time underworld activities of the local mafia.
Indeed, with Calcutta-like slums stretching through much of the old city, preexisting housing problems were so great that thousands of homeless Neapolitans are now trying to pose as earthquake victims in an attempt to get new apartments or have their old ones repaired.
"Weeding them out isn't going to be easy," says deputy mayor Giulio de Donato.
In an attempt to deal with the crisis, the minority left-wing city government has requisitioned scores of empty public buildings, hundreds of hotel rooms and caravans as well as several large ships.
Despite the city's gaping deficit -- this year expected to reach $200 million -- hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to serve hot meals to those in need.
But the problem has reached unprecedented dimensions. Following the earthquake, 20,000 homeless occupied -- and frequently vandalized -- 149 of the city's 840 schools where outbreaks of scabies, chicken pox and flea bites have already occurred. Another 15,000 took over a new, low-income housing project, even though the apartments there still lack electricity and running water.
Thousands also broke into the port area's cargo containers and are interfering with maritime operations, although some have been persuaded to move into hotels.
City officials and police have been doing their best to calm tensions by ordering the arrest of price-gouging shopkeepers and by quickly beginning proceedings against the builders of the nine-story, 20-family, modern apartment building in Poggioreale that collapsed in the quake.
But with only 200 technicians to check the safety of about 15,000 at least temporily abandoned buildings, solving the latest round of problems is not going to be easy.
"Nevertheless, says de Donato, "we have got to succeed if we want to avoid a wave of popular rage."
Mayor Maurizio Valenzi, a Communist, has accused the city's powerful neofascists of seeking to exploit popular discontent. He is also at odds with both Cardinal Corrado Ursi, who has refused to turn over some of the city's 40 convents for use as emergency dwellings and the local military command, which has agreed to give only one empty barracks.
"Unless everyone pitches in, we're simply not going to make it," the mayor said.
Another problem has been that of convincing Naples' hotel owners, worried about the winter season, to cooperate. But the earthquake has presented the tourism sector with other serious problems.
Along with destroying much of the Roman villa at Castellamare di Stabia, the quake damaged priceless art works and frescoes in Naples, leading authorities to close 22 churches as well as part of the Capodimonte Museum, the national archeological museum and the 17th century royal palace -- where the hands of the clock on the facade are stopped at 7:34 p.m., the time the quake hit.
But even more worrisome is the damage done to the archeological ruins at Pompei, the prosperous Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and today one of the area's few major tourist attractions.
"When we arrived here the morning after the quake with our hearts in our mouths our first reaction was to draw a sigh of relief," said one of Pompei's assistant curators. The fragile ancient ruins had not collapsed, but closer examination has shown that they may have been so extensively damaged that they could not survive a harsh winter.