April 7, 2009 / 12:29 AM / 11 years ago

Italy seeks survivors, prepares to bury quake dead

L’AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - Rescuers searched by lamplight in freezing temperatures for a second night for survivors of a quake which killed at least 235 people in central Italy, while relatives prepared to bury the first of the dead.

A survivor sits in an ambulance a day after an earthquake struck the Italian village of Onna April 7, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Thousands of survivors of Italy’s worst quake in three decades passed a fitful night in tent villages as a series of strong aftershocks hit the mountainous region of Abruzzo, hampering rescue efforts and causing at least one more death.

The strongest tremor since Monday’s quake toppled buildings, including parts of the basilica and the station, as the sun set on the historic mountain city of L’Aquila, which bore the brunt of the disaster in the early hours of Monday.

L’Aquila’s mayor said the 5.6 magnitude aftershock left one resident dead while in Rome, 100 km (60 miles) to the west, furniture shook in the upper floors of buildings. A 76-year-old Roman man was reported to have died of a heart-attack.

“In the last two nights, I’ve slept three hours at most. I feel physically and mentally tired from the lack of sleep and the fear,” said Ilaria Ciani, 35, spending the night in a large blue tent at a survivors camp in a sports field near L’Aquila.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has declared a national emergency and sent troops to the area, set up 20 tent camps and 16 field kitchens to provide hot food and accommodation for 14,000 people.

Hundreds of emergency workers, many of them volunteers, used mechanical diggers and their bare hands to remove piles of rubble in L’Aquila and nearby villages devastated by the quake.

The death toll rose steadily throughout the day but rescuers burst into applause when a 20-year-old girl was found alive 42 hours after the quake in the ruins of a four-storey building.

“A rescue like this is worth six months work,” said Claudio, a fireman from Venice.

At least 235 bodies were being stored in a makeshift mortuary at a school for Italy’s Finance Police outside L’Aquila, local media reported.

The first funeral of a victim was due to take place on Wednesday, in the town of Loreto Aprutino, led by the archbishop of Pescara. Some 1,000 people remain injured, about 100 seriously, and fewer than 50 were missing.

Many of the victims were students at L’Aquila’s university. A fireman from the port of Pescara who came to help rescue efforts collapsed in tears after unearthing the body of his stepdaughter, who was studying there.

Working by floodlight, rescuers used a crane to gradually dismantle a ruined university dormitory in the hope of finding survivors. As darkness fell, workers dragged out the bodies of two of the four students still missing.

FOREIGN SOLIDARITY

Authorities estimate 17,000 people have lost their homes, leaving them facing a grim Easter weekend. With many local churches badly damaged, people prepared to celebrate the feast in makeshift chapels in the tent villages.

Berlusconi, whose government already faces a huge public debt, said he would try to access hundreds of millions of euros in EU disaster funds to rebuild Abruzzo within two years.

Shows of solidarity came from home and abroad, with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin among the leaders calling Berlusconi to express sympathy and offer aid.

The prime minister has said Italy did not require foreign aid, but opposition leaders have urged him to reconsider, in the first sign of political divisions over the disaster.

Italian soccer teams said revenue from this weekend’s matches would be sent to help victims. Universities and newspapers throughout the country took collections, while hotels provided thousands of cheap rooms for survivors and rescuers.

Officials said the quake would severely affect the region’s economy, much of which is based on tourism, agriculture and small, family-run businesses. Police increased their patrols on the streets amid reports of looting of homes and shops.

Slideshow (20 Images)

Some residents and experts expressed anger that even supposedly earthquake-proof modern buildings had collapsed.

“In California, an earthquake like this one would not have killed a single person,” said Franco Barberi, head of a committee assessing quake risks at the Civil Protection Agency.

Monday’s quake was particularly lethal because it struck shortly after 3:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) as residents slept. Flattening houses, centuries-old churches and other buildings in 26 cities and towns, it was the worst since November 1980, when some 2,735 people died in southern Italy.

Writing by Daniel Flynn; additional reporting by Rome bureau; Editing by Matthew Jones

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