Digging for signs of life in the ruins
Hope fades in Italy for quake survivors
ACCUMOLI, Italy — After toiling through the night, an army of 5,000 rescue workers combed through mounds of rubble in a desperate search for survivors Thursday following a devastating earthquake that may yet become Italy’s deadliest in decades.
A series of aftershocks kept rocking the hard-hit zone Thursday, with one afternoon tremor sending a dust cloud over the already flattened town of Amatrice.
The shocks complicated rescue efforts as the death toll from Wednesday’s quake rose to 250, according to the Civil Protection agency. An additional 365 people were being treated for injuries.
But many people remained missing, and were feared dead under the weight of tons of fallen brick and concrete in historic towns across central Italy. Resigned rescuers continued digging out a collapsed hotel in the leveled town of Amatrice.
Officials worried that the ultimate death toll may surpass the roughly 300 people killed in the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. That would make Wednesday’s temblor Italy’s worst since a severe one in the south claimed thousands of lives in 1980.
“The number of confirmed dead has increased exponentially; we are above 190 in the city,” Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told Italy’s state broadcaster RAI. “We keep on digging.”
But he also suggested that hope was fading.
“You ask me if there is news on whether there are people who could still make it,” Pirozzi said. “Since last night, no.”
Here in Accumoli — a small 12th-century town of nearly 700 — survivors were crammed into impromptu tent cities. Aftershocks left homeless residents and rescuers on edge.
“Here it comes,” said one volunteer rescue worker, bracing herself as a tremor hit the town around 1:30 p.m. local time Thursday.
Inside the tent city, the initial shock was ebbing, and survivors began to focus on the challenges ahead. Towns such as Accumoli, 91 miles northeast of Rome, have already faced years of decline. Despite pledges to rebuild, residents feared that their lives would only get worse.
Lucia Di Gianvito, a 57year-old house cleaner who lost her home in the quake, said she had no word from the elderly woman who employed her.
“She is probably dead,” Di Gianvito said. “Everything is going to be over now. No jobs. No shops left. It’s over.”
A woman nearby chimed in, saying the town would rebuild. But Di Gianvito laughed.
“The situation wasn’t good even before,” she said, adding that only one of her two adult sons had managed to find work. “There were no jobs. The young people are leaving. Should we leave, too? Maybe. But where will we go? There is no hope.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Thursday night authorized $56.5 million in emergency funding and ordered the cancellation of taxes for residents of quake-hit central Italy. The announcement represented the Italian government’s first relief measures following the Wednesday disaster.
Renzi also unveiled an initiative called “Italian Homes” to address chronic criticism of shoddy construction standards nationwide. But he called suggestions that Italy could construct earthquake- proof buildings “absurd.”
He said it was difficult to imagine that this week’s death and destruction “could have been avoided simply using different building technology. We’re talking about medieval-era towns.”
Emergency workers comb through the rubble Thursday in Amatrice, Italy. The earthquake’s death toll stands at 250.