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Italy observes day of mourning for earthquake dead

The Italian president visited the village of Amatrice, where the largest number of people died in Wednesday’s earthquake. He was also to attend a memorial service with Prime Minister Renzi to honor the 290 people killed.

Italy began a national day of mourning on Saturday to honor the victims of a catastrophic earthquake as hopes of finding more survivors dimmed. The devastating tremor and its powerful aftershocks killed at least 290 people and injured 388 across the center of the country.

“We will go on searching and digging until we are certain there is no one left,” said Luigi D’Angelo, an officer working for the Civil Protection agency’s emergency unit in the town of Amatrice, where much of Wednesday’s destruction was concentrated.

Flags flew at half-staff across Italy as funerals for the victims continued following the burial of six victims south of Rome.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has declared a state of emergency and announced an initial fund of 50 million euros ($56 million) for disaster recovery.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella visited Amatrice, the town with the highest death toll: 224. He was guided by Mayor Sergio Pirozzi who showed him the extent of the devastation.

At a state funeral service attended by the president and prime minister, 35 varnished wooden caskets lined the town’s sports hall, including white coffins containing the remains of two of the 21 children killed in the disaster. Victims ranged in age from five months to 93 years old.

During the ceremony, Bishop of Ascoli Giovanni D’Ercole urged the mourners not to lose faith.

“Don’t be afraid to cry out your suffering, but do not lose courage,” he said.

“Together we will rebuild our houses and churches, together above all we will give life back to our communities … the village bells will ring once more.”

Hundreds of people also waited outside the hall to show solidarity with victims’ families.

Authorities under fire for high death toll

Both Renzi’s administration and local governments have faced tough questions as to why there were not stronger safeguards in place after a 2009 earthquake near the town of L’Aquila cost 300 lives.

“Italy should have a plan that is not just limited to the management of emergency situations,” Renzi said, adding that it was hard to stop buildings that are hundreds of years old from collapsing, but that more could be done to prevent the high death toll.

Magistrates have opened an investigation into the collapse of a belltower in the town of Accumoli, which smashed through the roof of an adjacent building killing a family of four. Questions are also raised over a school building – renovated in 2012 – that also collapsed.

“What happened cannot just be considered fate,” said prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva, who is leading the probe. “If these buildings had been constructed like they are in Japan then they would not have collapsed,” he told la Repubblica newspaper.

Meanwhile, some 2,000 survivors were forced to sleep in hastily-set up tents, only to be rocked by the more than 900 aftershocks from the quake – including a 4.2 magnitude tremor Saturday morning.

Italien Erdbeben Pescara del Tronto Firefighters sift through rubble in Pescara del Tronto, in central Italy’s Marche region, on August 26, 2016, two days after the powerful earthquake that has killed hundreds

Italy’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday that at least eight of the victims were foreigners, with officials from Britain, Romania, Spain, Canada and El Salvador confirming that at least one of their citizens was among the dead.

Some 4,000 professionals and volunteers were still on the job over the weekend to help the rescue effort and begin the clean-up work, as many bodies still lay in an airplane hangar in the city of Rieti, awaiting identification from relatives.

es/jm (AFP, dpa)

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