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Other News: Death Toll Rises in Italian Earthquake

April 8, 2009 at 6:15 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In other news today, aftershocks hurt efforts to assess earthquake damage in central Italy. Italian police put the death toll from Monday’s quake at 272 people. We have a report from Keme Nzerem of Independent Television News.

KEME NZEREM: There are still miracles. Ninety-eight-year-old Maria D’Antuono was trapped by the dead body of her best friend; it saved her life. When she was pulled out today, she simply asked for a hairbrush.

And so now, L’Aquila’s residents come to inspect the damage. The spire of the basilica knocked off center, roads strewn with rubble, and the homes all abandoned.

So from here, where is the risk from here? With more tremors every day, the danger is everywhere.

PASQUALINO FANTOZZI, resident (through translator): The fire brigade has forbidden me from coming back because there could be more collapse. I don’t know how many months I’ll be out; they’ve spoken about at least three months.

KEME NZEREM: Normally, this road would be bustling, but it’s almost completely deserted. There are people here. They’ve braved coming back to get the odd possession.

But the problem is, even if your home is safe, what about the next-door building, the next-door apartment block? The big question everyone’s asking: Just how long will it take them to get home?

The government’s pledged millions of extra euros for reconstruction, but warned rebuilding L’Aquila is a challenge on a scale they’ve never faced before. Many unsafe buildings will have to be demolished.

GIANNI CHIODI, governor of Abruzzo (through translator): Since this morning, there are 1,500 technicians who will go into all the apartments, monuments, churches, and institutions to identity the level of damage. This will take at least 15 to 20 days, and only then will we have a clearer idea of the situation.

KEME NZEREM: Take the modern and supposedly quake-proof hospital, evacuated after it began to crumble. Specialist earthquake engineers monitor suspect vibrations during each aftershock.

We’re told that these warped steel supports are no longer fully supporting the building’s weight. They won’t withstand another big tremor.

And until L’Aquila has a functioning hospital, this town of 70,000 will remain displaced, if they’re lucky, lodging with relatives, otherwise, cramming into tents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI pledged to visit the quake zone soon after the Easter holiday.

A bomb hidden in a plastic bag exploded near Baghdad’s most revered Shiite shrine. At least seven Iraqis died, and more than 20 others were wounded. The explosion went off in a pedestrian-only shopping area circling the holy site. It was one in a series of bombings across Baghdad this week, mainly in Shiite areas.

There was more violence in southern Afghanistan today. A NATO soldier was killed in what a NATO statement described as a “hostile incident.” No other information was given.

And in Uruzgan province, U.S., coalition and Afghan troops fought militants with mortar fire, killing six.

In Washington, there was another sign U.S. policy toward Iran was shifting. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will be a “full participant” in major talks. The E.U. foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has invited Iran to attend a new session of nuclear talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

Before Clinton’s remarks, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed a dialogue with the U.S. In Tehran, he insisted talks will happen only if American pledges to improve strained relations are genuine.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, president of Iran (through translator): If a hand is extended to Iran with honesty and justice, the Iranian nation will welcome it. But if it is a hand with covert dishonesty, the Iranian nation’s response to that will be the same response it gave to Mr. Bush.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No timeframe for a date of the nuclear meeting was given or any indication if Iran would accept the invitation.

Meantime, an American journalist held in Iran was charged with spying for the U.S. Roxana Saberi, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, has been jailed for more than two months on initial charges she was working without press credentials. She has reported for the BBC and National Public Radio, among others. Secretary of State Clinton reiterated calls for her speedy release.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today replaced the head of the Justice Department’s internal ethics unit. Mary Patrice Brown, a Washington prosecutor, will lead the Office of Professional Responsibility. The appointment comes one day after a federal judge ordered a criminal investigation into how U.S. prosecutors handled the corruption case of former Republican Senator Ted Stevens. A conviction against him was thrown out yesterday.

Police in Binghamton, New York, reported more details of last week’s deadly shootings at an immigration center. The gunman fired 98 shots from two handguns in little more than one minute. Police said almost all of the 13 victims died instantly.

Separately, police in Southern California investigated a late-night shooting at a Korean religious retreat. One person was killed and three others injured when a man opened fire with a revolver.

The U.S. Treasury Department said some life insurers have qualified for the government’s financial rescue program, but a spokesman clarified that there is no new bailout for the life insurance industry. The Wall Street Journal reported today that the Treasury Department will expand aid to some insurers, using funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 47 points to close at 7,837. The Nasdaq rose 29 points to close at 1,590.

Sports fans today marked a historic season by the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. UConn won their sixth national championship last night in St. Louis, beating Louisville 76-54. The win clinched an undefeated season in which the women Huskies beat every opponent by at least 10 points.