Image: People walk along the road following a quake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
By Steve Scherer and Gabriele Pileri
PESCARA DEL TRONTO, Italy (Reuters) – The death toll from an earthquake that flattened parts of central Italy rose to 267 on Friday as rescue workers pulled more bodies from mounds of debris and families prepared to hold the first funerals.
The civil protection department in Rome said nearly 400 people were being treated for injuries in hospitals, and local media reports said about 40 of them were in critical condition.
The earth continued to tremble with aftershocks, with survivors sleeping for the second night in tents set up by emergency services.
“It was quite a tough night because you have a significant change in temperature here. During the day, it is very, very hot and at night it is very, very cold,” said Anna Maria Ciuccarelli of Arquata del Tronto.
“There are still aftershocks preceded by booms and, for those of us who have just lived through an earthquake, it has a great effect, particularly psychologically,” she said.
About 2,500 people were left homeless by Wednesday’s 6.2 magnitude quake and the government has promised to rebuild the devastated communities.
More than 920 aftershocks have hit the area around Amatrice and the nearby towns of Pescara del Tronto, Arquata del Tronto and Accumoli. Nearly 60 of them have struck since midnight.
Families prepared to bury their dead, with the first funeral set for Friday morning in Rome for Marco Santarelli, the 28-year-old son of a senior state official, who died in the family’s holiday home in Amatrice.
“I cannot find the words to describe the grief of a father who outlives his own children. Perhaps there are no words,” Marco’s father, Filippo Santarelli, told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The funeral of two children and their grandparents who died in Pescara del Tronto originally set for Friday was put back until Saturday and will be attended by Italy’s president.
The search for survivors continued during the night in Amatrice, where 207 people are known to have died, as emergency workers with sniffer dogs clambered over piles of debris trying to find anyone still trapped under the rubble.
In other towns and villages the rescue operation wound down.
“We have removed the last bodies that we knew about,” said Paolo Cortelli, a member of the Alpine Rescue national service who helped to recover about 30 bodies from Pescara del Tronto.
“We don’t know, and we might never know, if the number of missing that we knew about actually corresponds to the people who were actually under the rubble.”
The mountainous area is dotted with holiday homes and Amatrice was also filled with visitors before a food festival that had been scheduled for this weekend.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised that the rebuilding effort would be his government’s top priority, but said he would also renew efforts to bolster Italy’s flimsy defences against earthquakes that regularly batter the country.
“We want those communities to have the chance of a future and not just memories,” he told reporters in Rome on Thursday.
Italy has a poor record of rebuilding after quakes. About 8,300 people who were forced to leave their homes after a deadly earthquake in L’Aquila in 2009 are still living in temporary accommodation.
Renzi declined to predict when the homeless might be rehoused. “This is not about setting challenges and making promises. We need the pace of a marathon runner,” he said.
Most of the buildings in the area were built hundreds of years ago, long before any anti-seismic building norms were introduced, helping to explain the widespread destruction.
Cultural Minister Dario Franceschini said all 293 culturally important sites, many of them churches, had either collapsed or been seriously damaged.
Italy sits on two fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe. Almost 30 people died in earthquakes in northern Italy in 2012 while more than 300 died in the L’Aquila disaster.
(Writing by Philip Pullella, editing by Crispian Balmer and David Stamp)
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