Europe

Italy quake death toll hits 267, state funeral planned

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The death toll from a powerful earthquake in central Italy rose to 267 on Friday as rescuers continued a grim search for corpses and powerful aftershocks rocked the devastated area.

A magnitude 4.3 aftershock has rattled the town of Amatrice, Italy just one day after the earthquake claimed the lives of 267 people.

The aftershock crumbled already cracked buildings, rattled residents and closed already clogged roads.

It was only one of the more than 470 tremors that have followed Wednesday's pre- dawn quake.

Firefighters and rescue crews using sniffer dogs worked in teams around the hard-hit areas in central Italy, pulling chunks of cement, rock and metal from mounds of rubble where homes once stood.

Rescuers refused to say when their work would shift from saving lives to recovering bodies, noting that one person was pulled alive from the rubble 72 hours after the 2009 quake in the nearby town of L'Aquila.

"We will work relentlessly until the last person is found, and make sure no one is trapped," said Lorenzo Botti, a rescue team spokesman.

SBS correspondent Nastasya Tay is in Amatrice, and she said the aftershocks continue to cause alarm.

“Earlier this afternoon there was a particularly strong one, and you literally saw people running into the centre of the street."

She said the aftershocks are causing already damaged buildings to collapse further.

“Everyone’s obviously concerned about the safety of the rescue teams and the search teams that are going in there - lots and lots of volunteers.

“People are edgy, but really exhausted... Everyone is still hopeful of trying to find survivors in the rubble - obviously that hope is diminishing by the hour, but at the same time no-one is ready to give up yet."

Listen to the interview with SBS correspondent Nastasya Tay:

The bulk of the confirmed deaths were in the small town of Amatrice, where Rita Rosine, 63, wept as she mourned her 75-year-old sister, who was buried under the ruins of her house.

"The situation is worse than in war. It's awful, awful... they say it will take two days to dig her out because they have to shore up the surrounding buildings," she told AFP.

"She didn't deserve to die like that, she was so good."

As hopes of finding any more survivors in the rubble faded, questions mounted as to why there had been so many deaths in a sparsely-populated area so soon after a 2009 earthquake in the nearby city of L'Aquila left 300 people dead.

That disaster, just 50 kilometres (30 miles) south, underscored the region's vulnerability to seismic events -- but preparations for a fresh quake have been exposed as limited at best.

Giuseppe Saieva, the chief public prosecutor for most of the area affected, said he would be opening an investigation into whether anyone could be held responsible for the disaster.

In Amatrice, a 4.3 magnitude aftershock shook the already badly damaged village on Thursday, fueling fears of fresh collapses which could hamper the rescue operation.

No new survivors

Amatrice normally has a population of around 2,500 but it was packed with visitors when the quake struck as people slept in the early hours of Wednesday.

A total of 215 people have been rescued from the rubble since Wednesday morning. But there have been no reports of survivors being found since Wednesday evening, when eight-year-old Giorgia was rescued 16 hours after being trapped, having been located by a labrador called Leo.

Her parents also survived but her 10-year-old sister did not make it. "I hope Giorgia will be able to forget what she went through," Angelo Moroni, the head of the team that saved her, told La Repubblica.

The last survivor in L'Aquila was found 72 hours after the quake.

The Red Cross began shipping in food and water supplies for homeless residents.

Among those who came to pick up emergency provisions were Maria Atrimala, 48, and her 15-year-old daughter.

"We escaped by pure luck, the stairs of the house held and we ran, blindly in the dark and dust," she said with tears rolling down her face.

"When we got out we could hear the cries of people still trapped and we helped those we could.

"We were in L'Aquila when the earthquake struck there, and now this. We have friends, relatives that didn't make it. What the future holds I don't know."

WATCH: Drone vision reveals extent of the devastation in the small town of Amatrice

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'What happens tomorrow?'

Hundreds of people spent the night sleeping in their cars or in hastily-assembled tents, the aftershocks adding to their discomfort.

Mario, a father of two small boys, said he was still in shock. "We slept in the car last night, though with the quakes it was hard to sleep at all," he told AFP between sips of Coke.

"We've booked a tent for tonight. But then tomorrow, the next day?"

The extensive damage to lightly-used properties has raised the spectre of some of the smaller hamlets in the region becoming ghost towns.

"If we don't get help, l'Arquata is finished," said Aleandro Petrucci, the mayor of Arquata del Tronto, which accounted for 57 of the confirmed deaths to date.

Petrucci said it was impossible to say exactly how many people were in the 13 tiny communities that make up l'Arquata when the disaster struck.

In Pescara del Tronto, which was virtually razed by the quake, there are only four permanently resident families but there could have been up to 300 people there on Wednesday.

Measuring 6.0-6.2 magnitude, the quake's epicentre was near Amatrice and its shallow depth of four kilometres (2.5 miles) exacerbated its impact.

It occurred without warning but in an area with a long history of killer quakes.

The Civil Protection agency which is coordinating the rescue effort said that in addition to the dead, 365 people had suffered injuries serious enough to be hospitalised. Several of them are in a critical state.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed lessons from L'Aquila, which still bears the scars of 2009, would be applied. "The objective is to rebuild and start again," he said.

'Nothing ever done'

After L'Aquila, the Civil Protection agency made almost one billion euros available for upgrading buildings in seismically-vulnerable areas.

But the take-up of grants has been low -- because of form-filling attached, critics say.

"Here in the middle of a seismic zone, nothing has ever been done," said Dario Nanni of the Italian Council of Architects.

"It does not cost that much more when renovating a building to make it comply with earthquake standards. But less than 20 percent of buildings do."

Nanni said the quake's impact had been increased by the widespread use of cement rather than wood beams. "These indestructible beams hit walls like a hammer and that is what made so many (houses) collapse."

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Source AFP, AP

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