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Death toll mounts as aftershocks hinder rescue efforts


Latest update : 2009-04-10

A series of aftershocks disrupted rescue efforts on Thursday as the quake's death toll mounted to at least 278 people. Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano arrived in L'Aquila ahead of a mass state funeral and day of mourning on Friday.

Reuters - A series of aftershocks disrupted rescuers on Thursday as they picked through rubble in a search for survivors of Monday's earthquake in central Italy that killed 278 people and left thousands homeless.

A magnitude 5.3 tremor shook the medieval mountain city of L'Aquila and nearby villages in the early hours of the morning, causing damage to buildings and prompting authorities to cordon off the city centre, which bore the brunt of the earthquake.

The aftershocks terrified many survivors -- 17,000 of whom spent another cold night in tent villages after being made homeless. Rescuers acknowledge hope of finding anyone alive under the devastated city were fading with every hour.

"We've lost everything but we're grateful to be alive and the rescue workers here are real angels," said Anna Chiara, sitting with her husband in a tent camp in L'Aquila.

The death toll climbed to 278 after rescuers pulled more bodies from the ruins overnight, including two students buried beneath a dormitory hall. Many of the victims of Italy's worst quake since 1980 were students at L'Aquila university.

The governor of the Abruzzo region, Gianni Chiodi, said around 10 people were still missing beneath the rubble.

Rescue workers haven't found any survivors for more than 30 hours. The last person rescued, a 20-year-old woman, was dug out from the ruins of a four-storey building late on Tuesday.

At least 16 children, including a five-month-old baby, were killed by Monday's earthquake, measured at 6.3 by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The interior minister said searches would continue at least until Easter.

"As long as we know that there are people under the rubble, we will keep searching even if we're sure they're dead. Families need to know what happened to their loved ones," a fireman said.

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano arrived in L'Aquila on Thursday, ahead of a mass state funeral and a national day of mourning on Friday. Relatives of the dead have already begun holding private funerals.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has declared an emergency and sent in thousands of troops, visited L'Aquila on Wednesday for a third day. He was in Rome on Thursday to chair a cabinet meeting expected to approve reconstruction spending, tax breaks for communities and tough penalties for looters.

One estimate for insurers put the damage to Italy's economy at 2 billion to 3 billion euros ($1.5 billion to $2.2 billion).

Berlusconi said in total 28,000 people had lost their homes in the earthquake, with 17,000 now living in tents and the rest in free hotel rooms or staying with family. Officials said central L'Aquila would remain cordoned off until May.

"We have been waiting for three days for the rescue workers to come and help us get some basic necessities," said resident Stefano Dedonadis, 22, who slept in a car outside his ruined second-storey flat. "We are completely powerless. We have nothing but these clothes."

Officials say the quake will have a huge impact in a region which mostly lives off tourism, farming and family businesses. However, its impact on Italy's nearly 2-trillion-euro economy is expected to be limited.

Survivors face a grim Easter. With many local churches badly damaged, people prepared to celebrate in makeshift chapels. The government and hotel owners have offered free shelter for the homeless in hotels on the Adriatic coast.

Date created : 2009-04-09