Italy buries quake victims, toll reaches 272

Survivors began burying the dead from Italy's worst earthquake in 30 years as plans were announced for a national memorial service for those who lost their lives in the disaster.

world Updated: Apr 09, 2009 08:06 IST

Survivors began burying the dead from Italy's worst earthquake in 30 years as plans were announced for a national memorial service for those who lost their lives in the disaster.

Two strong aftershocks rattled the central Abruzzo region early Thursday, where Monday's 6.2-magnitude quake claimed at least 272 lives, according to the latest police figures.

Vatican number two Tarcisio Bertone was to lead a memorial service on Friday, which has been declared a national day of mourning, in a suburb of the Abruzzo capital L'Aquila where most of the bodies are lying in a hangar at a police barracks. Relatives have already claimed the bodies of 87 victims who were not L'Aquila natives, the ANSA news agency said.

Thousands attended the funeral Wednesday of 25-year-old student Danilo Ciolli in his hometown in the neighbouring province of Molise, ANSA reported. Giuseppe Chiavaroli, who was 24 and played minor league football, was also laid to rest, in Pescara province on the Adriatic coast to the east.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the search for survivors would be extended by two days to Sunday, though hopes were fading fast. As many as 30 people are still missing and believed to be under the rubble.

Two lifeless bodies were pulled out a collapsed student dormitory in the centre of L'Aquila early on Thursday. Rescue worker Luca Signorile said: "We'll keep digging until we've found everyone -- dead or alive. We're going to do our job."

Berlusconi said 31 tent cities and 24 field kitchens had been set up and 14 roving medical units deployed, while raising the estimate of homeless to 28,000 from a previous figure of 17,000. Nearly 18,000 people were sheltered in some 3,000 tents at the camps dotted around L'Aquila, he said.

Making his third visit to the disaster zone in as many days, he wore a red hard hat while comforting a distraught white-haired survivor.

Some 7,000 police, soldiers and other emergency service personnel and volunteers were taking part in the earthquake operation, including psychologists offering grief and trauma counselling. Outside the area's main hospital -- condemned and evacuated because of damage from the quake -- doctors performed more than 280 operations in less than 36 hours, an official said.

The most serious involved cranial, pelvic and chest fractures as well as internal bleeding, heart problems and epileptic seizures, Mario Caroli said. Every 10 minutes or so another ambulance arrived at the unit staffed by 32 volunteer doctors and nurses.

Around 180 of the nearly 1,200 people injured in the quake were said to be in a serious condition. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that 16 children were among the dead.

Berlusconi meanwhile came under fire for comparing the ordeal of survivors staying in emergency tents to a camping weekend. During a visit to a tent village on Tuesday, the gaffe-prone premier told German television "they should see it like a weekend of camping."

"He is a completely insensitive man who thinks wisecracks can solve every problem," Rina Gagliardi, a former senator of the Refoundation Communist Party, said.

"He can never be negative, but an earthquake disorients him because he can't blame the left for causing it, so his response is extreme optimism," she said. Despite the criticism, Berlusconi has generally won praise from the Italian media for his performance.

The government estimates three billion euros (four billion dollars) would be needed to repair or rebuild some 10,000 buildings damaged in the quake. Donations poured in Wednesday in special bank accounts set up to help the survivors and the Italian Senate's 315 members decided to have 1,000 euros (1,323 dollars) deducted from their salaries for the cause.

Football teams also pitched in, with Seria A sides Napoli, Fiorentina, Catania and Siena deciding to donate the takings from their next league matches to the victims. Pope Benedict XVI said at his weekly audience that he planned to visit the disaster zone "as soon as possible" but a Vatican spokesman said that such a visit would not take place within the next fortnight.

First Published: Apr 09, 2009 08:02 IST