AMATRICE, Italy – Construction crews worked through the night to build a tent complex to host an Italian state funeral Tuesday in quake-devastated Amatrice after outraged residents rejected the government’s plan to hold the service in a distant airport hangar.
The evening Mass for more than 200 of the 292 people killed in the Aug. 24 earthquake is the second state funeral for victims of the temblor that flattened three towns in central Italy. The first, held Saturday, honoured victims from the Le Marche region. Tuesday’s funeral is for the victims of neighbouring Lazio, including hard-hit Amatrice.
The service will take place on the edge of Amatrice’s obliterated medieval centre on the grounds of a Catholic retreat for the elderly. It comes as Italy is observing a second day of national mourning, with flags on public buildings flying at half-staff.
Initially, authorities planned to hold the funeral in the provincial capital of Rieti, 65 kilometres away, citing safety concerns. The area has seen more than 2,500 aftershocks and faces logistical problems in bringing relatives and government officials to a town that only has one serviceable access road.
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But grieving residents rebelled at plans to let them watch it on TV or be bussed to Rieti. Sensing a public relations disaster, Premier Matteo Renzi reversed course late Monday and announced the funeral would be held in Amatrice.
Early Tuesday, bulldozers and steamrollers were preparing the grounds for the service while temporary tents were erected to shelter the altar and seating stands. It wasn’t clear how many caskets would be on hand, given that most had already been transferred to the makeshift morgue in Rieti’s airport.
So far, 231 victims have been found in Amatrice and 11 more in nearby Accumoli. The bodies of as many as 10 people, including Amatrice’s baker, are believed to be still buried under the rubble of the hundreds of buildings that collapsed. Fifty people were killed in Le Marche.
For those who survived, Tuesday’s funeral is only one step in tackling a long-term trauma.
“They’re living through a blackout,” said Letizia Bellabarba, a social worker with the Group for Humane Solidarity who is tending to survivors. “I mean, in 20 seconds – that’s how long the earthquake lasted – in 20 seconds their life changed. So they are disoriented, because they feel they were left without a future.”