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Hopes dim in search for survivors of Italian quake

L’AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy prepared to end the search for survivors of its worst earthquake for three decades, which killed at least 293 people and made nearly 40,000 homeless.

A fire department spokesman said rescuers might call off the operation on Saturday night or Sunday after a search beneath the ruins of a four-storey building in the mountain city of L’Aquila failed to turn up anyone alive.

“We said from the start hopes were very slight and unfortunately it looks like we won’t find anything,” he said.

No survivors from Monday’s 6.3-magnitude quake have been pulled from the rubble since Tuesday, and rescue efforts had not been expected to continue beyond the weekend.

Violent aftershocks continued to shake Italy’s central Abruzzo region overnight and into the morning, terrifying survivors a day after a state funeral for the dead.

The youngest quake victim was a five-month-old boy, killed with his mother.

With Easter around the corner, the thousands of people made homeless by the earthquake tried to find some normalcy in tents and borrowed quarters.

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At the main tent city, where some 2,000 survivors are sheltering, makeshift chapels with Bibles and rosaries were set up in plastic tents for people to pray and an Easter mass will be celebrated on Sunday.

“I always used to go to church, and tomorrow I’ll do the same,” said 75-year-old Carmelina Ciocca, tears in her eyes. “It will help me feel a bit better after all this devastation.”

Residents pleaded with security forces at roadblocks to let them recover personal effects from their crumbling houses.

“I just want to get some clothes, I’ve been wearing this tracksuit for five days now,” said Melina Giandomenico, who used to live in a central street in L’Aquila where three more bodies were unearthed on Saturday.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said around 24,000 of the homeless were living in emergency camps and 15,000 had been given shelter in hotels or private homes.

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The billionaire media mogul, has offered to put up homeless people at three of his own properties.

Attention is starting to turn to the reconstruction of a region that relies on tourism, farming and family firms. More than half the companies in the Abruzzo region are out of action.

One estimate put the damage at up to 3 billion euros ($4 billion), but its impact on Italy’s economy, which is worth nearly 2 trillion euros a year and is already mired in recession, is expected to be limited.