A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Italy at 3:36am, Wednesday August 24, 2016
247 confirmed dead
Rescue efforts continue
460 aftershocks rocked the region
Rescue crews raced against time today looking for survivors from the earthquake that flattened three towns in central Italy. The death toll rose to 247.
Dawn broke over the rolling hills of central Lazio and Le Marche regions after a night of uninterrupted search efforts. Helped by sniffer dogs and listening equipment, firefighters and rescue crews using their bare hands pulled chunks of cement, rock and metal away from mounds of rubble where homes once stood, searching for signs of life.
One area of focus was the Hotel Roma in Amatrice, famous for the Amatriciana bacon and tomato pasta sauce that brings food lovers to this medieval hilltop town each August for its food festival.
Amatrice’s mayor had initially said 70 guests were in the crumbled hotel ahead of this weekend’s festival, but rescue workers later halved that estimate after the owner said most guests managed to escape.
Firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari said that one body had been pulled out of the hotel rubble just before dawn but that the search continued there and elsewhere, even as 460 aftershocks rattled the area after quake struck at 3:36 a.m. on Wednesday.
“We’re still in a phase that allows us to hope we’ll find people alive,” Cari said, noting that in the 2009 earthquake in nearby L’Aquila a survivor was pulled out after 72 hours.
Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 100 kilometres northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometres further east.
Italy’s civil protection agency reported the death toll had risen to 247 early Thursday with at least 264 others taken to hospital.
"From here everyone survived," said Sister Mariana, one of three nuns and an elderly woman who survived the quake that pancaked half of her Amatrice convent.
"They saved each other, they took their hands even while it was falling apart, and they ran, and they survived."
She said that others from another part of the convent apparently didn’t make it: Three other nuns and four elderly women.
The civil protection agency set up tent cities around the affected towns to accommodate the homeless, 1,200 of whom took advantage of the offer to spend the night, civil protection officials said today. In Amatrice, some 50 elderly and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.
"It’s not easy for them," said civil protection volunteer Tiziano De Carolis, helping to care for about 350 homeless in Amatrice.
"They have lost everything, the work of an entire life, like those who have a business, a shop, a pharmacy, a grocery store and from one day to another they discovered everything they had was destroyed."
As the search effort continued, the soul-searching began once again as Italy confronted the effects of having the highest earthquake hazard in Western Europe, some of its most picturesque medieval villages, and anti-quake building codes that aren't applied to old buildings and often aren't respected when new ones are built.
"In a country where in the past 40 years there have been at least eight devastating earthquakes ... the only lesson we have learned is to save lives after the fact," columnist Sergio Rizzo wrote in today’s Corriere della Sera. "We are far behind in the other lessons."