Italy earthquake death toll hits 267 as hope for survivors dwindles

The death toll from the massive earthquake in central Italy rose to 267 on Friday, as hopes of finding more survivors dwindled and the first funeral services were held.

The magnitude-6 quake struck a mountainous area between the regions of Umbria, Lazio and Marche early Wednesday, toppling buildings and leaving many people trapped under the rubble in three municipalities about 150 kilometers north-east of Rome.

Immacolata Postiglione, head of the emergency department at the country's civil defence agency, Protezione Civile, said that 207 people died in Amatrice, 49 in Arquata del Tronto and 11 in Accumoli.

She added that 387 people have required hospitalization.

Amid an outburst of solidarity that led to an oversupply of food, clothes and volunteers to the affected areas, the Protezione Civile said more than 2.5 million euros (2.8 million dollars) had been raised through a donations campaign via SMS.

One of the first funeral services for the victims was held in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Rome, commemorating the 28-year-old son of a police chief who died while on holiday in Amatrice. His family was originally from there.

Most of the dead from Arquata, in the Marche region, were to be given an official funeral in the cathedral of the provincial capital of Ascoli Piceno on Saturday, with President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in attendance.

Saturday will be a day of mourning across Italy, Renzi's office said.

Amatrice will host a memorial service for its dead and those from Accumoli on Tuesday, local Bishop Domenico Pomili said. The service was brought forward by a day to allow the presence of Renzi, who expects a visit from German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

Rescuers were still at work in Amatrice. A spokesman for the fire service, Luca Cari, told RAI public radio that authorities had not given up on finding people alive under the rubble. "We are still in the phase of hope," he said.

Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said at least 15 people were still unaccounted for. The town's medieval centre was so badly damaged that it "needs to be razed to the ground completely" and rebuilt from scratch, he said.

There have been more than 900 aftershocks, many of them strong. A 4.8-magnitude one early Friday caused further collapses in Amatrice and the closure of an unstable bridge leading to the remote hilltop town.

Plans were underway to replace it with a temporary structure, but for the moment access to Amatrice relies only on another bridge also at risk of collapse. "I am deeply worried," Pirozzi said. "If there were problems with it, all connections would be cut off."

Late on Thursday, Carabinieri police made the first arrest for attempted looting in evacuated houses. They caught a 45-year-old man from Naples who was trying to break into a home in a hamlet near Amatrice.

Also on Thursday, the government in Rome has declared a state of emergency and pledged 50 million euros for immediate relief efforts, while the Culture Ministry said at least 293 heritage sites were damaged, 50 of them severely.

Authorities are under pressure to ensure an efficient reconstruction effort, avoiding the bureaucratic tangles and corruption scandals that usually plague public works in Italy. L'Aquila, a town where an earthquake killed 309 in 2009, is a sorry example.

Reconstruction funds "have to be spent properly, respecting the Italian people, because a lot of money was wasted and misspent in previous emergencies," Renzi said after a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

In an interview Friday with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Infrastructure Minister Graziano Delrio said the government would offer bigger tax breaks to home owners to secure private buildings against earthquake risks.

According to the National Council of Engineers, more than 50 per cent of Italian homes were built before earthquake safety regulations were introduced in 1974. Securing buildings in the areas at highest risk of quakes would cost almost 36 billion euros, it added.

Meanwhile, in a mark of respect for the tragedy, organizers of the August 31-September 10 Venice Film Festival said they cancelled a gala dinner and reception scheduled for the opening night on Wednesday.

In depth coverage

Aftershocks hit quake-struck central Italy

Quake-struck central Italy was hit by several aftershocks early Friday, the US Geological Survey reported. The strongest aftershock hit at 0428 GMT with a magnitude of 4.7.

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Last update: Fri, 26/08/2016 - 09:39
Last update: Fri, 26/08/2016 - 16:31

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