Hopes fade of more survivors from Italy quake

9th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Police reported that 272 were now known to have died, while Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said 16 children were among the dead.

L'Aquila -- Hopes faded Wednesday of finding more survivors from the worst earthquake in Italy in 30 years as the death toll climbed to 272 and the first funerals were held in the disaster zone.

"There aren't going to be any more people alive here," said Pedro Frutos, a Spanish search dog handler at a collapsed apartment building in L'Aquila, the epicentre of the quake where two more bodies were pulled out on Wednesday.

"We're using our dogs to look for bodies," he added.

Police reported that 267 were now known to have died, while Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said 16 children were among the dead.

The Vatican's number two, Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, will lead a memorial service on Friday in L'Aquila, capital of the Abruzzo region.

Officials said 11 people were still unaccounted for after the 6.2-magnitude quake on Monday. Around 100 of the nearly 1,200 injured were said to be in a serious condition.

Rescuers did manage to pull a 21-year-old student named Eleonora, still in her pyjamas, from beneath the debris of her home in L'Aquila on Tuesday night. The local press hailed it as a "miracle" but there were strong concerns for her health after she underwent surgery for fractures.

"We'll keep digging until we've found everyone -- dead or alive. We're going to do our job," said Luca Signorile, one of the rescue workers at a collapsed building where a body was recovered earlier Wednesday.

Several strong aftershocks overnight added to the trauma and complicated the grim rescue task. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Wednesday that the search would be extended by two days to Sunday.

About 140 inmates of L'Aquila's jail were evacuated late Tuesday after a 5.3 magnitude aftershock but there were no fresh tremors on Wednesday.

Thousands on Wednesday attended the funeral of Danilo Ciolli, a 25-year-old student who died in a dormitory in L'Aquila, in his hometown in the neighbouring province of Molise, ANSA news agency reported.

Giuseppe Chiavaroli, who was 24 and played minor league football, was also laid to rest, in Pescara province on the Adriatic coast to the east.

Berlusconi said 31 tent cities and 24 field kitchens had been set up and 14 roving medical units deployed. A total of 17,772 people were sheltered in 2,962 tents at the camps dotted around L'Aquila.

Although many have been housed in temporary shelter, at least 200 homeless survivors were unable to find shelter Tuesday night at one of the camps.

"Shame on you!" one woman screamed. "Rai (television) says everything's under control, but we can't even get into the tents."

Berlusconi meanwhile faced opposition criticism for comparing the ordeal of survivors staying in emergency tents to a camping weekend.

During a visit to a tent village on Tuesday, the gaffe-prone premier told German television "they should see it like a weekend of camping." The billionaire leader was also quoted as promising beach holidays to the victims.

But despite the criticism in some quarters, Berlusconi has generally won praise from the Italian media for his performance.

Some 7,000 police, soldiers and other emergency service personnel and volunteers are taking part in the earthquake operation, in which psychologists on Wednesday offered grief and trauma counselling.

In a first estimate the government said 1.3 billion euros (1.7 billion dollars) would be needed to repair or rebuild some 10,000 buildings damaged in the quake.

Donations poured in Wednesday in special bank accounts set up to help the survivors and the Italian Senate's 315 members decided to have 1,000 euros (1,323 dollars) deducted from their salaries for the cause.

Football teams also pitched in, with Seria A sides Napoli, Fiorentina, Catania and Siena deciding to donate the takings from their next league matches to the victims.

Pope Benedict XVI said at his weekly audience that he planned to visit the disaster zone "as soon as possible" but a Vatican spokesman told AFP that such a visit would not take place within the next fortnight.

Safety concerns led to the cancellation of Easter masses at churches damaged by the quake. Prayers this Sunday will instead be held in the tent villages around L'Aquila.


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