Sunday 11 December 2016

Italy buries quake victims - President joins grieving families for state funeral as hope fades of finding more survivors

Vanessa Gera

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

TEARS: A woman touches a coffin of one of the victims of Wednesday’s earthquake inside a gymnasium in Ascoli Piceno. Italy yesterday observed a day of national mourning as many victims were buried. Photo: Gregorio Borgia/AP
TEARS: A woman touches a coffin of one of the victims of Wednesday’s earthquake inside a gymnasium in Ascoli Piceno. Italy yesterday observed a day of national mourning as many victims were buried. Photo: Gregorio Borgia/AP

A young man wept over a little girl's white coffin, while a woman nearby gently stroked another small casket as Italians yesterday bade farewell to victims of the earthquake that struck a mountainous region of central Italy this week.

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As Italians observed a day of national mourning, President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Matteo Renzi joined grieving families for a state funeral for 35 of the 290 people killed in Wednesday's quake.

The coffin of 9-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, is carried outside the gymnasium at the end of the state funeral service in Ascoli Piceno. (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. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Mourners, among them many injured, wept and held each other in a sweltering community gym in the town of Ascoli Piceno as the local bishop, Giovanni D'Ercole, urged them to rebuild their communities.

"Don't be afraid to cry out your suffering - I have seen a lot of this - but please do not lose courage," D'Ercole told them. "Only together can we rebuild our houses and our churches. Together, above all, we will be able to restore life to our communities."

Before the mass funeral, people hugged and cried as they bid their final farewells to loved ones in the gym, which was transformed into a makeshift chapel for the ceremony. Among the victims were two girls, 18-month-old Marisol Piermarini and nine-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, whose younger sister survived against the odds beneath the rubble, still holding her dead sibling.

Hundreds of locals gathered outside to mourn and show support.

Coffins of some of the victims of the earthquake in central Italy are seen inside a gym before the funeral in Ascoli Piceno. REUTERS/Adamo Di Loreto
Coffins of some of the victims of the earthquake in central Italy are seen inside a gym before the funeral in Ascoli Piceno. REUTERS/Adamo Di Loreto

Read more: '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

"It is a great tragedy. There are no words to describe it," said town resident Gina Razzetti. "Each one of us has our pain inside. We are thinking about the families who lost relatives, who lost their homes, who lost everything."

The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at 3.36am on Wednesday and was felt across a broad swathe of central Italy, killing at least 290 people and injuring nearly 400. The death toll has steadily risen as rescue workers continue to find bodies buried under rubble. Nobody has been found alive in the ruins since Wednesday, and hopes have faded of finding any more survivors.

Before Saturday's mass funeral, the president visited Amatrice, the town that bore the brunt of destruction with 230 fatalities. Eleven others died in nearby Accumoli and 49 more in Arquata del Tronto, about 10 miles (16km) north of Amatrice.

The remains of the church of the village of Santi Lorenzo e Flaviano. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
The remains of the church of the village of Santi Lorenzo e Flaviano. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Mattarella arrived by helicopter at the edge of Amatrice, a once-picturesque stone town. He was shown the extent of the damage by mayor Sergio Pirozzi. The president met and thanked rescue workers who have been helping since early Wednesday.

Yesterday's mass funeral involved most of the dead from Arquata del Tronto, 25km to the southwest of Ascoli Piceno. Other funerals took place on Friday, with the majority still to come.

Giulia's sister, Giorgia, was pulled alive from the rubble on Wednesday after being buried for many hours. She turned four yesterday and was recovering in a hospital next door to the site of the funeral.

The bishop told mourners that when the firefighters recovered the two sisters, they were holding each other.

Firefighters stand next to a collapsed house following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
Firefighters stand next to a collapsed house following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

"The older one, Giulia, was spread out on the smaller one, Giorgia. Giulia, dead, Giorgia, alive. They were in an embrace," D'Ercole said.

Many children and elderly people were killed. Some of the older residents had grandchildren visiting in the last days of summer.

"The melancholy grabs on to your heart. You feel a sense of weakness, of depression," said Fiore Ciotto, a resident of Ascoli Piceno who attended the funeral. "An event like this weakens you physically and mentally."

Overnight, residents of the area were rattled yet again by a series of aftershocks. The strongest, at 4.50am, had a magnitude of 4.2, according to the US Geological Survey.

The Italian institute and other authorities say the earthquake caused the ground below Accumoli to sink 20cm, according to satellite images.

Many people left homeless have been spending their nights in tent cities where volunteers have been working to provide basic amenities.

©Associated Press

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