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Archive for Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tears, tributes as Italy mourns quake dead

April 11, 2009

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Coffins are lined up during the funerals for quake victims Friday in L’Aquila, central Italy. Four days after the major earthquake that made L’Aquila and many nearby towns and villages uninhabitable, the official death toll has reached 287, and most of the victims are here, in L’Aquilia.

Coffins are lined up during the funerals for quake victims Friday in L’Aquila, central Italy. Four days after the major earthquake that made L’Aquila and many nearby towns and villages uninhabitable, the official death toll has reached 287, and most of the victims are here, in L’Aquilia.

— It was a scene that moved a nation: mourners clinging to one another and sobbing over neat rows of more than 200 coffins, some with the tiny caskets of children resting on top.

Italians joined in an outpouring of grief on Good Friday as victims of Italy’s most devastating earthquake in a generation were remembered at an open-air funeral Mass in the hard-hit city L’Aquila.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI urged survivors not to give up, praying at the end of the Good Friday torch-let Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum that they may see the “star of hope.” And Premier Silvio Berlusconi captured the pathos that swept the country, wondering aloud: “How can one not be moved by so much pain?”

The 6.3-magnitude temblor — which killed at least 290 people and left nearly 40,000 homeless — struck Monday at the start of Holy Week, heightening the suffering in this deeply Roman Catholic country.

On Friday evening, hours after the funeral, rescue crews started digging in the rubble of an apartment building in L’Aquila after dogs trained to look for survivors indicated that some life might be in the debris, Civil Protection spokesman Luca Spoletini said.

But officials cautioned against concluding there was a survivor.

“We will continue to dig until we have absolute certainty” that no one is alive, said Fire Cmdr. Antonio Gambardella, “but we have no illusions.”

“We heard a ticking, a steady noise, but it could be water, or noise from a refrigerator,” he said. Or the dogs might have sniffed out an odor left by people who had already been found.

Gambardella said rescuers were told that a cleaning woman occasionally came to the house, and she could have been a victim.

Engineers and geologists have said buildings constructed to seismic-safety standards should not have collapsed, raising the possibility that building codes weren’t followed or that shoddy materials were used.

L’Aquila Prosecutor Alfredo Rossini said he had opened a probe into possible criminal blame for the collapses, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Firefighters picking through rubble told state TV Friday night that some of the reinforced concrete pillars they had removed seemed to have been made poorly, possibly with sand. Instead of cutting cleanly with a saw, in some buildings in L’Aquila, the pillars crumbled into dust, indicating that a lot of sand might have been mixed into the cement, they said.

Twenty children and teenagers were among the dead. The youngest victim would have turned 5 months on Easter Sunday.

Amid the rows of simple wood coffins, five small white caskets of children rested on those of their parents. On them lay mementos of lives cut short: a teddy bear, a toy motorcycle, a tiny T-shirt with a Tweetie Bird design.

Many who gathered at the special Mass on a military ground in the medieval town of L’Aquila were on crutches or had bruises and bandages. Some wore sweat pants or tracksuits — the only clothing they had managed to find since fleeing their homes.

Firefighters, rangers and other rescue workers stood solemnly, their hands clasped in front of them. At least 10 mourners fainted during the ceremony, according to a doctor at the scene.

As survivors said their last goodbyes, outrage mingled with the grief.

“There is a lot of anger,” said Daniele Cerrone, 32, who owned two now-destroyed pubs that catered to students. “Anger because it is unfair. Anger because it is not normal. Anger because there is no future.”

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