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Italy buries first quake victims

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Italy buries first quake victims

Post  Admin on Wed Apr 08, 2009 10:11 am

Italy has held the first funerals for victims of the powerful earthquake which struck the country's central Abruzzo region.

Officials say 260 people are now known to have died in Monday's quake and about 28,000 are homeless.

As aftershocks continue to rattle the region, hopes are fading of pulling any more people alive from the rubble.

A mass funeral will take place in the the regional capital L'Aquila on Friday as well as a day of national mourning.

The Bishop of L'Aquila, Giuseppe Molinari, will conduct the mass, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said.

Pope Benedict XVI has said he will visit the region "as soon as possible".


One resident of L'Aquila, Antonella Massi, said people in the town were shocked to have lost so many loved ones.

"The town has been reduced to rubble with over 40 dead and lots of them were young," she said.

"A whole generation cancelled out."

As overnight temperatures dropped to 4-5C, thousands spent a second night in tent camps around L'Aquila.

The AFP news agency reported that about 200 people had been unable to find shelter in the camps.

"Rai [television channel] says everything's under control, but we can't even get into the tents," the agency quoted one woman as saying.

Warning to looters

Speaking at a press conference in L'Aquila, Mr Berlusconi said of the 260 bodies recovered so far, 16 were children and nine were yet to be identified.

Some 17,700 people were sheltering in temporary camps set up by the authorities, while a further 10,000 were in other accommodation, he said.

Mr Berlusconi said he was concerned by reports of looting and was planning to introduce new legislation to impose "very severe punishment" on people caught committing the crime.

"Whoever is low enough to try to take advantage of a tragedy like this shows a total lack of morals and will be very severely punished," he said.

Troops will also be deployed to guard vacant homes, said Mr Berlusconi.

During an earlier visit to a camp, Mr Berlusconi caused controversy by comparing the experience to a "a weekend of camping.

Tremors

The Pope has praised rescuers, the police and the Italian authorities for their work after the quake.

He said the rush to help those affected demonstrated "how important it is to have this solidarity in order to get over these painful moments".

"I wish to tell that population the Pope shares your pain and your worries. I hope to visit you as soon as I can," he said.

About 150 people have been pulled alive from the rubble but rescue efforts have been hampered by the aftershocks.

At least seven strong shocks hit the region during the night, killing one person and waking people from their sleep in the tent shelters.

The tremors brought down masonry from already damaged buildings and one tremor was felt as far away as Rome.

The authorities say it is difficult to know when the tremors will end.

Firefighters' coordinator Gennaro Tornatore told AFP that his colleagues were "risking their lives" working amid the rubble in such conditions.

Rescue efforts were given a boost when a 20-year-old woman was pulled alive from the rubble after being buried for 42 hours.

But while rescuers had earlier expressed hope that people could be found alive, that now appears increasingly unlikely.

The emphasis of the rescue operation will slowly shift to salvage and clearance, the BBC's Dominic Hughes reports from L'Aquila.

One man, the uncle of a student believed buried under the ruins of university accommodation, said in such circumstances, "hope dies last".

"But what can you really hope for here? The building just fell into the ground," he said.

Between 3,000 and 10,000 buildings are thought to have been damaged in L'Aquila, making the 13th-Century city of 70,000 uninhabitable for some time.

The head of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocha, said it could be months or even years before all the displaced people could return to their own homes.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7990029.stm

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