Aftershocks rattle Italian quake zone as toll hits 200

8th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Rescue efforts continued Tuesday, amid complications due to aftershocks and fears of looting.

L’Aquila -- Earthquake aftershocks rocked the Italian city of L'Aquila on Tuesday, sending fresh lumps of debris tumbling as rescuers pulled out more survivors.

By Tuesday, the death toll had passed 200.

A 98-year-old woman who whiled away the long hours knitting was among the lucky few saved but hopes dwindled of finding others. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rejected outside help after Italy's worst earthquake in three decades but reports of looting added to the crisis.

Berlusconi told a press conference there were 207 dead and that 7,000 police, troops and other emergency services and volunteers were taking part in the hunt for survivors.

Their task was complicated by the aftershocks that rattled the L'Aquila more than a day after the initial 6.2 magnitude quake wreaked its devastation on the historic city and neighbouring villages.

The strongest, at about 11:30 am (0930 GMT), measured magnitude 4.7 on the Richter scale, the national geological institute said.

Hundreds of the 1,500 injured people were being treated in a field hospital set up inside L'Aquila, the epicentre of the quake.

Volunteer groups joined professional rescue teams who used sniffer dogs to locate victims, working through the night under giant spotlights with mechanical diggers to lift the heaviest rubble.

Berlusconi, who has declared a state of emergency in the central Abruzzi region, said the search would go on for another 48 hours, adding that 150 people had so far been pulled alive from collapsed structures.

One of those found on Tuesday was Maria D'Antuono, 98, who was recovered unharmed in L'Aquila some 30 hours after the quake.

She told the ANSA news agency that she had knitted while waiting to be rescued.

Public safety officials said hotels in the area, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Rome, had made more than 13,000 beds available to the homeless.

About 17,000 people lost their homes, authorities said. Many people spent the night in their cars, as temperatures dropped to near freezing.

Berlusconi said 20 tent camps with 16 field kitchens would be completed Tuesday to accommodate 14,500 people.

"I thank foreign countries for their solidarity, but we ask them not to send us aid," he said. "We can handle the needs on our own. We are a proud people and we have the means," he said.

Interior Minister Robert Maroni said 130 million euros (175 million dollars) in emergency funds had been made available and more would follow.

"We will find all the resources we need for this national emergency," Maroni said.

However public anger mounted with many people in the zone saying quake warning signs had been clear to see in recent weeks.

"It's a scandal what's happened," L'Aquila resident Maria Francesco told AFP. "For the past three months there have been regular tremors, and they've been getting stronger and stronger!"

Of those killed, 40 were in the village of Onna, which had a population of around 300.

"My husband has been helping the rescue workers and he has been taking away bodies with his bare hands. It is just a nightmare," said one resident who only gave her first name Silvana.

With so many homes and businesses abandoned, there were reports of looting.

Maroni said 200 police were assigned to patrol against looting.

"Unfortunately there were a few cases yesterday, and today we will reinforce the contingent," he added.

The epicentre of the quake was under L'Aquila and massive destruction was reported for 30 kilometres (20 miles) in all directions from the town. The nearby villages of Villa Sant'Angelo and Borgo di Castelnuovo were practically wiped out.

The quake lasted about 30 seconds, bringing down many buildings, including the dome on the 16th-century San Bernardino church. The city's cathedral was also among the Renaissance and Baroque buildings damaged.

Roofs caved in on sleeping inhabitants and boulders fell off mountain slopes blocking many roads.

Safety concerns led to the cancellation of Easter mass services at churches damaged by the quake. Prayers would instead be held in tent villages sheltering survivors, the Roman Catholic Church announced.

Italy is criss-crossed by two fault lines, making it one of Europe's most quake-vulnerable regions, with some 20 million people at risk.

Gunther Kern/AFP/Expatica

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