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World News

Italy to hold state funeral for earthquake victims

L’AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy holds a state funeral on Friday for 281 victims of its worst earthquake in three decades and will then turn its thoughts to rebuilding the lives of the thousands made homeless.

On a national day of mourning about 200 coffins will be laid out on the parade ground of a police academy in the mountain city of L’Aquila for the funeral at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT). About 1,600 bereaved relatives are expected to attend.

“I’ll be there,” said 30-year-old Angelo Dania, whose house was destroyed by the 6.3 magnitude quake that hit the central Italian region of Abruzzo early on Monday as residents slept.

“I am worried about my house but, in the end, I am the lucky one,” he said. “I could have been one of them.”

Rescue efforts were drawing to an end as hopes of pulling any more survivors from the rubble faded. “The search is almost over,” said Luca Spoletini, spokesman of the Civil Protection agency which is coordinating Italy’s response to the emergency.

But one fireman said: “As long as we know there are people under the rubble we’ll keep searching even if we’re sure they’re dead. Families need to know what happened to their loved ones.”

Rescue work continued to be hampered by violent aftershocks on Thursday, which further damaged buildings in the medieval towns and terrified the 17,000 people living in tent villages.

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Thousands more survivors are being put up in hotels or relatives’ homes.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called L’Aquila a “ghost town” and said reconstruction would cost billions. He plans to attend the state funeral, where Catholic mass will be led by the Vatican’s second highest priest, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The funeral required a special dispensation because mass is not usually celebrated on Good Friday in the Catholic church. Pope Benedict has said he will visit Abruzzo soon. There will also be an Islamic rite funeral for six Muslim victims.

REBUILDING STARTS

After the funeral, survivors will start thinking about how to pick up their lives in a region that relies on tourism, farming and family firms. Italy’s industry minister said more than half of the companies in Abruzzo “are no longer producing.”

One estimate put the damage at up to 3 billion euros ($4 billion), though its impact on Italy’s nearly 2-trillion-euro economy, already mired in recession, is expected to be limited.

Slideshow ( 33 images )

The government plans to suspend some tax, utility and phone bills in the affected areas and has earmarked 100 million euros for rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts. Italian banks may also suspend mortgage payments and bank charges for survivors.

Local builders, rejecting suggestions that shoddy building was to blame for the collapse of modern buildings that should have been earthquake-proof, including a hospital and student hostel, said some of the damage would prove to be superficial.

“We are not killers,” said builder Filiberto Cicchetti. “In two weeks it will be seen that 90 percent of private housing built outside the city walls from the ‘60s on is still viable.”

Slideshow ( 33 images )

“The medieval city built 450 years ago has been destroyed but the city will be reborn and rebuilt according to the rules of the trade,” he promised.

Locals were mystified as to why some houses were flattened while neighboring ones of the same period survived, or why the village of Onna was almost entirely destroyed, and its tiny population decimated, but Monticchio next door was untouched.

“It’s as if the earthquake tried to avoid us,” 45-year-old Amedeo Nardicchio said in Monticchio. “We were lucky.”

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