Saturday 1 October 2016

'Hello little one, I am sorry that we arrived late. You had already stopped breathing' - Italy grieves as state funeral is held for quake victims

* Death toll rises as more bodies found in hotel
* Bishop says houses and communities will be rebuilt
* Investigator questions quality of construction

Iona, Serrapica and Gabriele Pileri

Published 27/08/2016 | 17:19

The coffin of Giulia, 9 years old, is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
The coffin of Giulia, 9 years old, is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
A woman kisses the coffin of 9-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, as it is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Relatives mourn prior to the funeral of 34 victims of the earthquake, in Ascoli Piceno, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A man sits in front of a coffin (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)
A friar and a woman mourn in front of a coffin, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, before the start of the mass funerals in Ascoli Piceno, central Italy (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)
Mourners pay their respects as they attend a funeral for the earthquake victims inside a gym in Ascoli Piceno August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Adamo Di Loreto
Relatives mourn over a coffin of one of the earthquake victims prior to the start of the funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Relatives mourn near coffins of some of the earthquake victims prior to the start of the funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People gather during a funeral service for victims of the earthquake inside a gym in Ascoli Piceno, Italy August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Adamo Di Loreto
Italian President Sergio Mattarella (C) attends a funeral for the earthquake victims inside a gym in Ascoli Piceno, Italy August 27, 2016. Italian Presidency Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
From left, Italian Lower House Speaker Laura Boldrini, Premier Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini attend the mass funeral in Ascoli Piceno, central Italy (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)
Mourners gather after a funeral service for victims of the earthquake inside a gym in Ascoli Piceno, Italy August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Adamo Di Loreto
The coffin of 9-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
A moment of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno gymnasium , Italy (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Firefighters helps a man to get his personal belongings from his damaged house in Villa San Lorenzo, near Amatrice, central Italy (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A man stands in front of his collapsed house after recovering his personal belongings, in Villa San Lorenzo, near Amatrice, central Italy (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A woman sits outside a tent camp set up as a temporary shelter following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
A firefighter carries a drawer with pictures and personal belongings following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
Italian President Sergio Mattarella (C) meets a firefighter as he visits Amatrice after the earthquake in central Italy August 27, 2016. Italian Presidency Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

Weeping relatives hugged each other and reached out to touch the simple wooden coffins at a state funeral on Saturday for some of the 291 people killed in an earthquake this week.

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Amongst the 35 coffins laid out in a sports hall were small caskets holding the bodies of an 18-month-old baby and a nine-year-old girl, two of the 21 children who are known to have died when the quake hit central Italy early on Wednesday.

"Don't be afraid to bewail your suffering, we have seen so much suffering. But I ask you not to lose your courage," Bishop Giovanni D'Ercole said in a homily in the hall, which was packed with grieving families and top politicians.

"Only together can we rebuild our houses and churches. Above all, together we can give life back to our communities," he said, speaking in front of a dusty crucifix salvaged from one of the dozens of churches devastated by the quake.

Even as the funeral Mass was being held, rescuers kept searching through the rubble of the worst-hit town, Amatrice, but acknowledged they had little hope of finding more survivors from Italy's worst earthquake in seven years.

Read more: Nun who became face of Italy's earthquake texted friends 'adieu' and asked they pray for her soul

Nine more bodies were recovered from the town on Saturday, including three pulled overnight from the crumpled Hotel Roma, bringing the death toll in Amatrice alone to 230 residents and tourists.

Authorities said 387 people were still in hospital, with one patient dying of his injuries during the day.

A woman kisses the coffin of 9-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, as it is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A woman kisses the coffin of 9-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, as it is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
The coffin of Giulia, 9 years old, is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
The coffin of 9-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno, Italy (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
A moment of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno gymnasium , Italy (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Firefighters helps a man to get his personal belongings from his damaged house in Villa San Lorenzo, near Amatrice, central Italy (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A man stands in front of his collapsed house after recovering his personal belongings, in Villa San Lorenzo, near Amatrice, central Italy (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A woman sits outside a tent camp set up as a temporary shelter following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
A firefighter carries a drawer with pictures and personal belongings following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
Italian President Sergio Mattarella (C) meets a firefighter as he visits Amatrice after the earthquake in central Italy August 27, 2016. Italian Presidency Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

One of the last people to be plucked alive from the debris was a girl called Giorgia, who turned four on Saturday. Her sister Giulia's small coffin lay in the centre of the sports hall for the funeral Mass.

"Hello little one," said a handwritten note left on her coffin by one of the rescue team that retrieved her body.

"I am sorry that we arrived late. You had already stopped breathing, but I want you to know up there that we did all we could to get you out of there."

INVESTIGATION

Relatives of the dead sat on chairs next to the coffins or knelt on the floor, their arms resting on the caskets, which were covered in flowers. One man, his legs covered in cuts, sat in a wheelchair, his head bowed. Some of the mourners clutched framed photos of their loved ones.

As the names of the dead were read out, hundreds of people outside the sweltering sports hall broke into prolonged applause in a sign of solidarity with the families.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lingered after the service had ended to talk to the ranks of mourners.

"We will decide all together how to get going again. But don't give up, that is crucial," Renzi told one youth.

Authorities have released the names of 181 victims. The youngest was five months old, the oldest 93. Six Romanians, three Britons, a Spanish woman, a Canadian and an Albanian died in the calamity.

Most of the buildings in the quake zone had no anti-seismic protection, but even some of those that did, including a school in Amatrice that was renovated in 2012, fell apart.

Magistrates have opened an investigation into some of the incidents, including the collapse of a belltower in the town of Accumoli, which smashed through the roof of an adjacent building killing a family of four.

Read more: 'Buildings are literally collapsing around you': Irishman has lucky escape from Italy earthquake

"What happened cannot just be considered fate," said prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva, who is leading the probe. "If these buildings had been constructed like they are in Japan then they would not have collapsed," he told la Repubblica newspaper.

Renzi has promised to rebuild the shattered communities and the mayor of Amatrice urged the government to learn the lessons of painfully slow post-quake reconstructions of the past.

"What we need is a reconstruction in record time. It is a great opportunity for politicians to show extraordinary commitment," mayor Sergio Pirozzi told president Mattarella.

Survivors in some of the worst-hit areas feared that their little hamlets, sparsely populated outside the holiday months, would become ghost towns unless the flattened Amatrice was swiftly rebuilt.

"That's where the grocery stores, shops and restaurants were, and these little villages depended on it," said Eduardo Nibi, 31, whose family has roots in the badly-damaged hamlet of San Lorenzo e Flaviano.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the area overnight, the strongest measuring 4.2. The Italian geological institute said more than 1,350 aftershocks had hit Italy's central mountains since Wednesday's pre-dawn 6.2-magnitude quake.

 Italy sits on two faultlines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe. Almost 30 people died in earthquakes in northern Italy in 2012 and more than 300 in the city of L'Aquila in 2009.

Reuters

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