Repairing the damage done by last month's earthquake in central Italy will cost at least 3-4 billion euros (3.3-4.5 billion dollars), the head of the national civil defence agency said on Friday.
"The bill will be no less than 3-4 billion euros, a ballpark figure that I fear will be surpassed," the head of the Protezione Civile, Fabrizio Curcio, said in a government press conference on recontruction efforts.
On August 24, a magnitude-6 tremor flattened Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto, three municipalities in a rugged mountain area about 150 kilometres north-east of Rome, killing 297 people. About 2,700 survivors are homeless, including 2,500 in makeshift tents.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pledged that towns would be rebuilt "where they were, as they were, and if possible even more beautiful than before." He said the "objective is [...] to return everything to how it was."
Italy is often plagued by deadly earthquakes. Reconstruction work usually takes at least 10 years, and is dogged by bureaucratic delays, corruption scandals, and Mafia infiltration in building tenders.
Reconstruction commissioner Vasco Errani promised special surveillance against a repetition of such problems, and, amid evidence that earthquake safety funds were misspent in recent years, said buildings' resilience would be significantly stepped up.
"We want to rebuild in such a way so that with another 6.0-magnitude [tremor] there will be no building collapses [...] and people in those towns won't risk their lives," said Errani, who after another quake in 2012 oversaw relief efforts in the Emilia-Romagna region.
In Amatrice and other damaged towns, camped-out survivors are being urged to move into hotels and other structures before the onset of the cold season. Some are resisting because they do not want to be uprooted from their communities.
The plan is to allow them to return after temporary wooden villages, complete with shops and other essential services, are built as near as possible to the destroyed areas. Curcio said this would take about six months.
Later Friday, a cabinet meeting was set to approve a list of municipalities eligible for quake aid, Renzi said, adding that beyond the three towns where people died, many other places will need repair work.
The premier confirmed he would seek a derogation from European Union deficit rules to fund a nationwide programme to improve the quake resilience of school buildings. Keeping up a confrontational tone with Brussels, he dared the European Commission to thwart his plans.
Spending on such items "will be outside of the stability pact [the EU's budget discipline rulebook] because we can't worry about the stability of technocracies and forget about the stability of buildings," he said.
Renzi also said he would extend tax breaks for private home upgrades, including on quake resilience, and that a task force on Casa Italia - a long-term plan under the guidance of top architect Renzo Piano to improve the national building stock - would be operational by Monday.