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In Italy, Hunt for Quake Survivors Continues as Memorial Plans Take Shape

BY Admin  April 8, 2009 at 12:03 PM EDT

Spanish rescue team in L'Aquila; AP photo

Meanwhile, preparations are being made to bury the 260 victims. A mass state funeral for the victims and a national day of mourning are expected to be held Friday, although two private services were to be held Wednesday. Pope Benedict prayed for the victims and said he plans to visit the devastated area soon.

Rescuers continue to pull bodies from the thousands of structures toppled in the mountainous Abruzzo region. Aftershocks from Italy’s worst quake in three decades continued Wednesday and were felt as far away as Rome. The strongest 5.6 magnitude shock late on Tuesday toppled parts of the basilica and station in the city of L’Aquila, which bore the brunt of the disaster, and claimed another victim.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said 28,000 people have lost their homes, with 17,000 now living in tents and the rest in free hotel rooms or staying with family.

“I slept so badly because I kept feeling the aftershocks,” said Daniela Nunut at one of the tent camps set up across the city of L’Aquila. The 46-year Romanian-born woman told Reuters she and her companion plan to stay in the tent for now. “What can you do? You can’t go into the building.”

About 150 people have been pulled alive from the rubble. Late Tuesday, rescuers burst into applause when a 20-year-old woman was found alive 42 hours after the quake in the ruins of a four-story building.

Earlier in the day, searchers pulled 98-year-old Maria D’Antuono unharmed from her collapsed home, according to the BBC. She told Italy’s Ansa news agency that she crocheted while awaiting rescue.

Rescue workers continuing their search still held out hope to find somebody alive. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the rescue efforts would likely continue until Easter Sunday, beyond the period originally indicated by Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, who declared an emergency and mobilized thousands of troops, drafted a tough new law against looting.

“Whoever is low enough to try to take advantage of a tragedy like this shows a total lack of morals and will be very severely punished,” said Berlusconi, visiting the now-uninhabitable 13th-century city of L’Aquila for the third consecutive day to direct the emergency response.

Officials said some 10,000 to 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed in the 26 cities, towns and villages around L’Aquila, a city that had 70,000 residents.

Since the quake early Monday, some 430 aftershocks have rumbled through, including some strong ones, said Marco Olivieri of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome.

A strong aftershock at 7:47 p.m. Tuesday rained debris on screaming residents and rescue crews, who ran away from structures.

Many survivors at a makeshift tent city said they had been cold during the night as heaters in some of their tents were not working.

To shelter the homeless against the chilly nights in the mountains, about 20 tent cities have sprouted in open spaces around L’Aquila and surrounding towns complete with field kitchens, medical supplies and clowns with bubbles to entertain traumatized children.

“We’re in shock because we have lost our loved ones, the town has been reduced to rubble with over 40 dead and lots of them were young, a whole generation cancelled out,” said Antonella Massi in Onna, a village that once had 300 residents and was left with hardly a building untouched by the quake.

Asking countries wishing to send aid to restore one of the region’s ruined medieval churches instead, Berlusconi’s hands-on approach could boost his high popularity rating, pollsters say.

One estimate done for insurers put the damage to Italy’s economy, which is already reeling from the worst recession since World War II, at between $1.5 billion and $2.2 billion.

Some residents and experts said they were angry that even supposedly earthquake-proof modern buildings had collapsed.

“In California, an earthquake like this one would not have killed a single person,” said Franco Barberi, head of a committee assessing quake risks at the Civil Protection Agency.