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Italian PM vows to rebuild quake-struck areas as death toll hits 250

Filippo Monteforte, AFP | Firefighters walk past a damaged house in the central Italian village of Amatrice on August 24.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed Thursday to rebuild communities devastated by an earthquake and relaunch efforts to protect infrastructure as the death toll from Wednesday's quake hit 250.

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At least 250 people died after an earthquake struck the mountainous heart of Italy, devastating a string of towns, villages and hamlets.

“We cannot forget that we have a moral commitment towards the men and women of these places,” Renzi told reporters at the end of a cabinet meeting called to discuss the government’s response to the emergency.

“Reconstruction is the priority of our government and of our country,” he said, adding that it was also vital to boost anti-seismic measures in one of the most earthquake-prone nations in the world.

“We are the best in the world when it comes to managing emergencies, but that is not enough,” he said. “We need to change our mentality. We need a new model of development, but also of prevention.”

More than 300 people were injured, some critically, and an unknown number remained trapped under the ruins of collapsed buildings after Wednesday's pre-dawn quake.

Amid scenes of carnage, dozens of emergency services staff and volunteers were determined to attempt to pluck more survivors from the ruins.

Rescuers had pledged to work through the night in the hope of finding people alive in the mangled wreckage of homes.

Hundreds of people spent a chilly night in hastily assembled tents with the risk of aftershocks making it too risky for them to return home.

Scores of buildings were reduced to dusty piles of masonry in communities close to the epicentre of the quake, which had a magnitude of between 6.0 and 6.2.

It hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio at a time of year when second-home owners and other visitors swell the numbers staying there. Many of the victims were from Rome.

The devastated area is just north of L'Aquila, the city where some 300 people died in another quake in 2009.

Most of the deaths occurred in and around the villages of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto.

It was Italy's most powerful earthquake since the disaster in L'Aquila.

"Half the village has disappeared," said Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi, surveying a town centre that looked as if had been subjected to a bombing raid.

The tremors were strong enough to be felt 150 kilometres (90 miles) away in Rome, where authorities ordered structural tests on the Colosseum.

Some of the worst damage was in Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region where the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children's park.

With residents advised not to go back into their homes, temporary campsites were being set up in Amatrice and Accumoli as authorities looked to find emergency accommodation for more than 2,000 people.

Amatrice is a hilltop beauty spot considered the home of amatriciana, one of Italy's favourite pasta sauces. It is popular with Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer.

It was packed with visitors when the quake struck at 3:36am (0136 GMT).

Three minutes later the clock on the village's 13th-century tower stopped.

'Out of the blue'

The first quake measured 6.2, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). It measured 6.0 according to Italian monitors, who put the depth at only four kilometres. A 5.4-magnitude aftershock followed an hour later.

Italy is vulnerable to earthquakes and the 2009 tremor in L'Aquila led to lengthy recriminations over lax building controls and the failure of authorities to warn residents that a quake could be imminent.

David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at Britain's Open University, said the shallowness of Wednesday's quake had made it more destructive.

But he added: "Unlike the L'Aquila quake, which was preceded by swarms of smaller quakes and led to claims – unjustified in my view – that the eventual big quake should have been predicted, this one appears to have struck out of the blue."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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