Dig­ging for signs of life in the ru­ins

Hope fades in Italy for quake sur­vivors

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Ste­fano Pitrelli and An­thony Faiola As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted.

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.”

CARL COURT/GETTY

Emer­gency work­ers comb through the rub­ble Thurs­day in Ama­trice, Italy. The earth­quake’s death toll stands at 250.

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