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Nerves fray in Italy quake zone as toll rises to 250

L’AQUILA – Strong aftershocks two days after central Italy’s devastating earthquake jeopardised increasingly desperate search efforts Wednesday as the death toll rose to 250.

The jolts added to a night of misery for more than 200 homeless survivors of central Italy’s earthquake who were unable to find shelter at camps set up around L’Aquila, the epicentre of Monday’s 6.2-magnitude quake.

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

The situation was a contrast to comments made by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who said survivors have everything they need.

In an interview with German television station N-TV, he said: "They have everything they need, they have medical care, hot food…"

The prime minister also said the 17,000 people made homeless by should consider themselves to be on a "camping weekend".

"Of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. but they should see it like a weekend of camping."

At least seven strong shocks hit the region through the night, the latest around 6:30 am (0430 GMT).

A grandmother caring for her three-month-old granddaughter said she knew the aftershocks could not harm them in their tent, but said, "It was still scary when you feel the earth move."

Several guests at L’Aquila’s Federico II hotel, one of the few businesses still open in the medieval walled city, preferred to spend the night in their car after noticing floor-to-ceiling cracks appearing in the walls.

As rescuers resumed the increasingly desperate hunt for survivors the death toll rose to 250, the ANSA news agency reported quoting civil protection officials.

Berlusconi said Tuesday afternoon that the search for survivors would continue "another 48 hours until we are certain" no living person remains under the rubble.

He said 150 people had so far been pulled out alive from collapsed structures.

One of those found on Tuesday was 98-year-old Maria D’Antuono, who was recovered unharmed in L’Aquila some 30 hours after the quake. She told ANSA she had kept at her crochet while awaiting rescue.

Twelve hours later cheers erupted when a young girl, Eleonora, still in her pyjamas, was pulled alive from the rubble after rescuers answered her cries for help, Italian media reported.

But the aftershocks are making the grim rescue task much more dangerous. "As soon as there’s another tremor… colleagues working in the rubble are risking their lives," the firefighters’ coordinator Gennaro Tornatore told AFP.

Some 7,000 police, soldiers and other emergency service personnel and volunteers were taking part in the operation.

"We’re a bit tired," said Fabrizio Curcio, director of the Civil Protection emergency bureau. "But frankly, fatigue is not a major concern… We’re running on adrenalin."

The shortfall of tents came despite a pledge by Berlusconi that tent camps would be completed to accommodate 14,500 people by the end of Tuesday.

"They want to be in tents. They’ve been in their cars since the quake. Tents have been requested and I really hope they come tomorrow," a relief volunteer said late Tuesday.

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

The nearby villages of Onna, Villa Sant’Angelo and Borgo di Castelnuovo were practically wiped out by the quake.

Safety concerns led to the cancellation of Easter masses at churches damaged by the quake. Prayers will instead be held in the tent villages, the Roman Catholic Church announced.

AFP / Expatica