, L’AQUILA, Apr 8 – Strong aftershocks rocked the Italian city of L’Aquila overnight, raining fresh debris as rescuers pulled more earthquake survivors from the rubble and the death toll climbed to 235.
The government rushed to provide shelter for survivors who were second night away from their homes, and police were patrolling the historic town centre early Wednesday to protect abandoned apartments and businesses against looters.
A 98-year-old woman who whiled away the long hours awaiting rescue crocheting was among the lucky few saved on Tuesday. Another was a girl found alive after 42 hours buried in rubble.
But hopes of finding others was fading as cranes were busy pulling down unsafe buildings.
Hospital sources quoted by Italy’s domestic ANSA news agency said the morgue had taken in 228 bodies by nightfall. Officials quoted by Rainews 24 television put the toll at 235.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said 7,000 police, soldiers and other emergency service personnel and volunteers were taking part in the frantic hunt for survivors.
Complicating their work, however, was a string of aftershocks that rattled L’Aquila more than a day after the initial 6.2-magnitude quake that devastated the historic mountain city and neighbouring villages.
The strongest came at 7:45 pm (1745 GMT) with a magnitude of 5.5 to 5.7 on the Richter scale, Sky TG-24 television reported. Another at 11:30 pm registered 3.8 on the Richter scale, according to Rainews 24 television.
Hundreds of the 1,500 injured were being treated in a field hospital set up inside L’Aquila. Volunteer groups joined professional rescue teams with mechanical diggers who used sniffer dogs to locate victims.
"We’re a bit tired, but still very active," said Fabrizio Curcio, director of the Civil Protection emergency bureau, which is coordinating rescue work from a gymnasium on the outskirts of L’Aquila.
"Frankly, fatigue is not a major concern … We’re running on adrenaline."
Berlusconi, who has declared a state of emergency in the central Abruzzo region, said the search would go on for another 48 hours, adding that 150 people had so far been pulled alive from collapsed structures.
One of those found on Tuesday was Maria D’Antuono, 98, who was recovered unharmed in L’Aquila some 30 hours after the quake. She told the ANSA news agency she had kept at her crochet while awaiting rescue.
Twelve hours later cheers erupted when a young girl, Eleonora, still in her pyjamas, was pulled alive from the rubble after rescuers answered her cries for help, ANSA and Sky TG-24 television reported.
But L’Aquila was a virtual ghost town the day after the quake, with survivors sheltering at a blue tent city and forming long lines to accept food donations.
As shop owners have been barred from entering their businesses on fashionable streets in the town centre floors were still strewn with bottles of wine and regional delicacies that fell off shelves and display dummies still lay on the ground knocked down by the force of the quake.
Even supposedly quake-safe modern structures crumbled, burying people alive and destroying property and cars.
"I had two friends in there," a man named Bernardo, 52, said as he looked at a damaged building, his expression leaving no doubt as to their fate.
Some 17,000 people lost their homes, authorities said. Many people spent the first night in cars, as temperatures dropped to near freezing in the area about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Rome.
Berlusconi said 20 tent camps with 16 field kitchens would be completed Tuesday to accommodate 14,500 people.
"I thank foreign countries for their solidarity, but we ask them not to send us aid," he said. "We can handle the needs on our own. We are a proud people and we have the means."
Interior Minister Robert Maroni said 130 million euros (175 million dollars) in emergency funds had been made available, with more to follow.
But more than 200 people in L’Aquila spent a second night in their cars as not enough tents were available.
Some people were beginning to voice criticism of the rescue and relief operations.
"My husband has been helping the rescue workers and he has been taking away bodies with his bare hands. It is just a nightmare," said one resident who only gave her first name, Silvana.
With so many homes and businesses abandoned, Maroni said 200 police officers have been assigned to patrol against looting. "Unfortunately there were a few cases yesterday, and today we will reinforce the contingent," he added.
Massive destruction was reported for 30 kilometres in all directions from L’Aquila. The nearby villages of Villa Sant’Angelo and Borgo di Castelnuovo were practically wiped out.
The quake lasted about 30 seconds, bringing down many buildings, including the dome on the 16th-century San Bernardino church. The city’s cathedral was also among Renaissance and Baroque buildings damaged.
Roofs caved in on sleeping inhabitants and boulders fell off mountain slopes blocking many roads.
In a first estimate the government said some 1.3 billion euros would be needed to repair or rebuild the some 10,000 buildings damaged in the quake.
Safety concerns led to the cancellation of Easter masses at churches damaged by the quake. Prayers would instead be held in tent villages sheltering survivors, the Roman Catholic Church announced.
Italy is criss-crossed by two fault lines, making it one of Europe’s most quake-prone regions, with some 20 million people at risk.