Italy Earthquake: State Funeral for 35 Victims as Toll Reaches 290

Italy Earthquake: State Funeral for 35 Victims as Toll Reaches 290 

President Sergio Mattarella and prime minister Matteo Renzi among hundreds to attend service as death toll nears 300
At least 215 people had been pulled alive from the rubble, but no survivors had been found since Wednesday night. Pirozzi said finding someone alive three days after the quake “would take a miracle”. Fifteen people were still missing, he said, and workers would continue digging until all the bodies had been recovered.

Many of those left homeless by the quake have been living in tent cities where volunteers have been providing basic amenities.

Renzi declared a state of emergency, authorised an initial €50m (£43m) in aid, and cancelled residents’ taxes. The total rebuilding operation is forecast to cost over €1bn.

Italy Earthquake: State Funeral for 35 Victims as Toll Reaches 290 
Italy Earthquake: State Funeral for 35 Victims as Toll Reaches 290
Italy Earthquake: State Funeral for 35 Victims as Toll Reaches 290 

But as rescue and relief efforts continued, there were mounting questions as to why there had been so many deaths in an area known for decades to be the most seismically hazardous in Europe.

Italy’s culture minister said 293 historical buildings had been damaged or destroyed by the Amatrice quake, and public prosecutors announced an investigation into whether anyone could be held responsible.

Before the funeral, the flower-covered caskets were lined up in the sports centre to allow mourners to say farewell.

“Even if I didn’t know them, my heart broke for them,” said resident Luciana Cavicchiuni. “My thoughts are with them because there are people who have lost everything; homes, loved ones and the sacrifices made in life. These things should not happen.” 

Some families chose not to take up the offer of state funerals. “Why attend? To listen to politicians? They always say the same thing – that they stand with us and that it must never happen again ... always the same thing!” said one woman after identifying a relative in Amatrice, where another commemoration service has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Emergency services are more confident that they have accounted for everyone in the smaller outlying hamlets north of Amatrice – some of which have been so badly damaged there are doubts as to whether they will ever be inhabited again.

“Saletta will disappear like so many tiny places,” predicted Marco Beltrame, 28, who lost his aunt and uncle when the quake struck their one-street hamlet.

The first grieving families to bury their dead did so on Friday evening in Pomezia, a small town south of Rome. Hundreds of residents turned out to pay their respects to lost relatives, friends and neighbours, who included an eight-year-old boy.

A large number of the victims were from the Rome area, where many former inhabitants of the mountains have moved for work, returning to family homes only at the height of summer.

The clear-up operation has been hampered by aftershocks, which continued to rattle the area overnight, the strongest measuring magnitude 4.2. The Italian geological institute said 1,332 aftershocks had hit the central mountains since Wednesday’s pre-dawn 6.2 magnitude quake which left 387 injured. On top of the deaths in Amatrice there were 11 deaths in nearby Accumoli and 49 in Arquata del Tronto.

The three Britons were Marcos Burnett, 14, who was on holiday with his parents and sister, Will Henniker-Gotley, 55, and his wife, Maria, 51, from south London. Marcos’s parents were being treated in hospital for minor injuries.

Ten Romanians, a Canadian, a Spaniard and a Salvadoran were also among those killed. The 2,500-strong population of Amatrice, voted one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns last year, had been swollen with summer visitors, many from Rome, in anticipation of its popular annual food festival this weekend.

A note on Giulia’s coffin read: “Ciao little one. Sorry that we arrived too late.” It had apparently been left by one of the workers involved in the rescue operation.

“Giulia died but she was found in a position protecting Giorgia ... life and death came face to face and for Giorgia, life won,” the bishop said.

Earlier on Saturday, Mattarella paid tribute to the “extraordinary effort” of more than 4,000 rescue workers and volunteers on a brief visit to Amatrice, the hilltop town hit hardest by the quake.

Italy quake: grief and trauma in hilltop towns as hopes fade of finding survivors
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The Italian civil protection agency said the death toll from the quake had risen after three bodies were recovered overnight from the rubble of Amatrice, the site of 224 of the total number of deaths, including those of three Britons.

Mattarella was shown the extent of the damage by the mayor, Sergio Pirozzi. The president was taken only to the edge of the medieval town because the centre was deemed too dangerous.

While there is little hope of finding any more survivors, the head of the civil protection agency, Immacolata Postiglione, said the search would continue. “I confirm once again, as we have from the start, that the units doing the searches and rescues, including with dogs, are absolutely fully active,” she said on Friday.

Relatives of the dead sat alongside the flower-decked coffins, some draping themselves across them and crying, as Giovanni D’Ercole, the bishop of Ascoli, implored them not to lose faith.

“Don’t be afraid to scream your suffering, but do not lose courage,” the bishop said. “Together we will rebuild our houses and churches, together above all, we will give life back to our communities ... the village bells will ring once more.”

Among the coffins was a small, white casket for nine-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, whose body protected her younger sister, Giorgia, for long enough to allow the five-year-old to be pulled from the rubble virtually unscathed. Giorgia was one of the last survivors to be rescued and there have been no reports of anyone else being found alive since late Wednesday, some hours after the earthquake originally struck.

Italy has held an emotionally charged funeral for dozens of its earthquake victims as the country observes a national day of mourning for the disaster that killed 290 people and wounded hundreds more.

The Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, and other leaders were among hundreds who sat solemnly behind 35 coffins in a sports hall in Ascoli Piceno on Saturday to mourn the dead. Hundreds more stood silently outside as the sombre proceedings of the mass was relayed to them by loudspeakers.

The hall in the town, situated in the Marche region, had been converted temporarily into a place of worship for the funeral of most of the people who died in the villages of Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto in the region’s mountainous interior.

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