Wed, Apr 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Death toll hits 200 as aftershocks rattle Italy

AFP , L’AQUILA, Italy

Rescuers search the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors in the village of Castelnuovo in central Italy on Monday. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless by Monday’s earthquake.

PHOTO: AP

Italian rescuers raced against time yesterday to find survivors from an earthquake that killed at least 200 people, toiling around the clock to remove rubble with their bare hands.

In L’Aquila, a woman was rescued 23 hours after the powerful quake by a group of expert cavers who painstakingly removed the slabs of concrete that trapped the 24-year-old.

The 2am rescue of Marta Valente was a rare example of good news, with hopes fading of saving more of the dozens of people who were still missing.

Hundreds of people were being treated in a field hospital set up inside the medieval town. Some 1,500 people were injured by the quake, which devastated L’Aquila and surrounding villages.

Volunteer groups joined professional rescue teams, who used sniffer dogs to locate other victims, working overnight under giant spotlights with mechanical diggers to lift the heaviest rubble.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who declared a state of emergency in the central Abruzzi region, was expected to make his second visit yesterday to the stricken town, about 100km northeast of Rome.

“No one will be abandoned to his fate,” he said on Monday.

Public safety officials said hotels in the area had made more than 13,000 beds available to quake victims.

About 17,000 people lost their homes, rescue authorities said yesterday, and a tent village was set up for between 16,000 and 20,000 people.

Interior Minister Robert Maroni announced 130 million euros (US$175 million) in emergency funds for the rescue operation and said more funds would become available.

“We will find all the resources we need for this national emergency,” Maroni said on Italian television.

Of the 200 dead, at least 39 were in the nearby village of Onna, which had a population of around 250, the ANSA news agency said.

“My husband has been helping the rescue workers and he has been taking away bodies with his bare hands. It is just a nightmare,” said Silvana, an Onna resident who declined to give her last name.

With so many homes and businesses abandoned, there were reports of looting. Maroni said 200 police had been assigned to patrol against looting.

“Unfortunately there were a few cases yesterday,” he said.

The epicenter of the quake was under L’Aquila and massive destruction was reported for 30km in all directions from the town. The nearby villages of Villa Sant’Angelo and Borgo di Castelnuovo were almost entirely wiped out.

The national geophysical institute said 280 aftershocks had been recorded since the first quake.

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