Pope dispatches Vatican firefighters to help in Italy quake rescue

A man is rescued alive from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Wednesday dispatched one-sixth of the Vatican’s tiny fire department to join rescue efforts following the earthquake that has devastated parts of central Italy.

The Vatican said six of its firefighters traveled to the town of Amatrice to help civil protection workers look for survivors still under the rubble and assist those already rescued.

The total force of the 108-acre city-state’s fire department numbers 37.

Amatrice was one of the small mountain towns wrecked by the quake. At least 73 people have died in the disaster, with many dozens still missing.

Earlier on Wednesday, the pope canceled a scheduled speech at his weekly general audience on religious teachings and instead prayed with the crowd for victims and survivors.

“Hearing the mayor of Amatrice say that the town no longer exists and learning that there are children among the victims, I am deeply saddened,” he told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gavin Jones