AMATRICE, Italy – Strong aftershocks rattled residents and rescue crews alike Friday as hopes began to dim that firefighters would find any more survivors from Italy’s earthquake. The first funerals were scheduled for some of the 281 dead.
Some of hard-hit Amatrice’s crumbled buildings suffered more cracks after the biggest aftershock of the morning struck at 6:28 a.m. The U.S. Geological Service said it had a magnitude of 4.7, while the Italian geophysics institute measured it at 4.8.
The aftershock was preceded by more than 50 overnight and was followed by another nine in the subsequent hour – some of the nearly 1,000 aftershocks that have rocked the seismic area of Italy’s central Apennine Mountains in the two days since the original quake early Wednesday.
Rescue efforts continued through the night and into Friday, but more than a day and a half had passed since the last person was known to be extracted alive from the rubble. While Premier Matteo Renzi hailed the fact that 215 people had been rescued since the quake, civil protection officials reported only a steadily rising death toll that stood early Friday at 281.
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Nevertheless, civil protection operations chief Immacolata Postiglione insisted that the rescue effort continued in full and hadn’t switched to a recovery mission. Rescue workers have noted that a person was pulled out alive from L’Aquila’s 2009 quake after 72 hours, or three full days.
“I confirm, once again as we have from the start, that the units that are doing the searches and rescues, including with dogs looking for other people trapped in the rubble, are absolutely fully active,” she said at the agency’s early briefing Friday.
On the ground, there was still determination to account for all missing, even though the number of people still unaccounted for is uncertain given the large number of visitors to the area for the final days of summer.
“Yes, there is still a chance to find someone alive,” rescue dog handler Gianni Antonini said Thursday.
Italian news reports said the first funerals were to be held Friday for some of the victims: in Rome, for the son of a local police chief who was in Amatrice with friends; in Pomezia Terme for two grandmothers and their two grandchildren.
The vast majority of the dead were found in Amatrice, the medieval hilltop town famous for its bacon and tomato pasta sauce that was levelled by the quake. The other dead hailed from the two other main hard-hit areas of Accumoli nearby and Arcquarta del Tronto and its hamlet Pescara del Tronto in neighbouring Le Marche region.
Across the area, thousands were forced to abandon their homes, either because they were destroyed or were determined to be too unsafe. Overnight some 2,100 slept in tent camps, nearly 1,000 more than the first night in a sign that a significant number have found nowhere else to go.
Winfield reported from Rome.