Italy has declared a national day of mourning Saturday to honour the first victims of Wednesday’s devastating earthquake.
Flags will fly at half-staff Saturday on all public offices and a state funeral will be celebrated by a bishop in a gym in Ascoli Piceno for the victims of nearby Arquata del Tronto – to date, 49 of the dead have come from the tiny town and its hamlet Pescara del Tronto. President Sergio Mattarella is expected to attend.
As rescue efforts continued some crumbled buildings in Amatrice cracked even further after a powerful aftershock. The U.S. Geological Service said it had a magnitude of 4.7, while the Italian geophysics institute measured it at 4.8.
The shaking ground also damaged a key access bridge to Amatrice, forcing emergency crews to close it and making an already challenging traffic flow into the town worse. Civil protection officials were working to find alternate routes, since the bridge is crucial for emergency crews moving in and out of town.
The aftershock was preceded by more than 50 overnight and was followed by another nine in the next hour – part of the nearly 1,000 aftershocks that have rocked Italy’s central Apennine Mountains since the original 6.2-magnitude quake early Wednesday.
WATCH: Rescuers continue to scour through rubble in central Italy following earthquake
Premier Matteo Renzi has declared a state of emergency and authorized 50 million euros for immediate quake relief.
Rescue efforts continued through the night and into Friday, but more than a day and a half had passed since the last person was extracted alive from the rubble. While Renzi hailed the fact that 215 people had been rescued after the quake, authorities reported a steadily rising death toll that had hit 281 by Friday afternoon.
Civil protection operations chief Immacolata Postiglione still insisted Friday that the rescue effort hadn’t yet switched to a recovery mission. Rescue workers have noted that a person was pulled out alive 72 hours (three days) after the 2009 earthquake in the Italian town of L’Aquila.
“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 Friday.
On the ground, authorities were still struggling to account for all the missing, since that number is still uncertain given the large number of visitors for summer holidays and an annual food festival.
“There is still hope to find survivors under the rubble, even in these hours,” Walter Milan, a mountain rescue worker, said Friday. But he conceded: “Certainly, it will be very unlikely.”
Global Affairs Canada confirmed at least one Canadian was killed during the earthquake and another injured.
– With files from Global News