As aftershocks roil Italy, rescue crews lose hope
AMATRICE, Italy — Strong aftershocks continued to strike central Italy on Friday, as rescue crews began to lose hope of finding additional survivors two days after a deadly earthquake killed at least 281 people.
A powerful aftershock Friday damaged two key access bridges leading to hard-hit Amatrice, threatening to isolate it, Mayor Sergio Pirozzi warned.
“With the aftershocks yesterday but especially this morning the situation has worsened considerably,” Pirozzi said. “Wehave to make sure Amatrice does not becomeisolated, or risk further help being unable to get through.”
The biggest aftershock struck at 6:28 a.m., one of the more than 1,000 that have hit the area since Wednesday’s quake.
The U.S. Geological Service said it had a magnitude of 4.7.
Crews began clearing trees to create an alternate bypass road to avoid the nearly 25-mile detour up and down mountain roads that they were forced to use Friday, slowing the rescue effort.
Even before the roads were shut down, traffic into and out of Amatrice was congested with emergency vehicles and dump trucks carrying tons of concrete, rocks and metal down the single-lane roads.
Multiple ambulances were also taking the dead to an airport hangar in the provincial capital of Rieti, where four big white refrigerated trucks created a makeshift morgue to which relatives came in a steady stream Friday.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared a state of emergency and authorized $56 million for immediate quake relief.
The Italian government also declared Saturday a day of national mourning and scheduled a state funeral to be attended by President Sergio Mattarella.
Thirty-four caskets were lined up in a gym in Ascoli Piceno ahead of Saturday’s Mass. A memorial service for the Amatrice victims is scheduled for next week.
The first private funeral took place in Rome on Friday for the son of a provincial police chief who was honored at one of Rome’s most important basilicas. One of Pope Francis’ top advisers celebrated a funeral Mass for seven other victims south of Rome.
Rescue efforts continued, but by nightfall, two full days had passed since the last person was extracted alive.
“There is still hope to find survivors under the rubble, even in these hours,” Walter Milan, a rescue worker, said Friday.
But he conceded, “Certainly, it will be very unlikely.”
The head of the firefighting squad, Bruno Frattasi, said there was always hope of finding someone alive. But by Friday he was talking more about time running out and recovery efforts.
“We hope to recover all the bodies,” he said.
He said the toll had stabilized in the Arquata area of eastern Le Marche region, with 49 dead and no one else unaccounted for.
In Amatrice, the situation was more uncertain; Mayor Pirozzi has estimated there could still be 15 people unaccounted for.
A woman touches a coffin of one of the victims of Wednesday’s quake, inside a gym in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, on Friday. Thirty-four caskets were lined up for Saturday’s Mass.