Girl (8) gave her life to save her sister in Italian earthquake
Death toll rises to 250 as hope fades for victims in rubble
Giulia Rinaldi was sleeping peacefully in her bedroom with her young sister Giorgia in the hillside village of Pescara del Tronto when their world came crashing down.
As the walls and ceiling shook and started to crack in the early hours of Wednesday morning, neither eight-year-old Giulia nor her four-year-old sister had time to rush out of the house into the night.
Caught in the village worst hit by central Italy's 6.2 magnitude earthquake and with no adult to help them as masonry crashed down, Giulia threw herself on top of her sister, wrapping her in her arms.
They remained trapped like that for 16 hours.
The selfless act allowed Giorgia to escape unscathed. But it would be the last thing that Giulia ever did.
Her aunt, Francesca Sirianni (34) said: "The firemen told us that when they found them, Giulia was lying on top of her little sister and had given her life to protect her." One rescue worker said the pair were "locked in an embrace".
Ms Sirianni said the girls' parents could do nothing when disaster struck. "Their father, Fabio, managed to pull out my cousin with her husband.
"But as he did so, he saw his daughters' little legs trapped inside their room and he was convinced they had both died."
Ms Sirianni spoke from an area beneath the village where rescue workers were erecting large blue tents to accommodate homeless survivors.
The recovery of Giorgia was a moment of elation in a grim 24 hours for exhausted rescue workers still searching in the faint hope of finding more survivors. The death toll from the earthquake across central Italy reached at least 250 yesterday and could rise further.
Angelo Moroni, a fire brigade commander, said: "It was a moment of great joy. To pull Giorgia out we had to dig with our bare hands."
He added: "I hope that Giorgia doesn't remember much of this - in fact I hope she forgets everything."
Ms Sirianni said that in hospital Giorgia asked after her grandmother, her parents, but not her sister. "I am sure that unconsciously she knows her sister is dead but is too traumatised to talk about it," she said.
The parents and their surviving daughter are recovering in hospital. The father badly broke his leg, while the mother broke several ribs and suffered internal injuries.
Sobbing, Ms Sirianni, said: "I have lost so many people - friends, cousins, second cousins. Pescara no longer exists. It has gone.
"How can we conceive of going back to a village that has become a cemetery? Can you imagine going past one house after another saying: here one friend died, here a relative was killed? I, for one, cannot."
Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 100km north-east of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25km further to the east.
Houses have been cleaved in two, offering glimpses into the intimacy of people's lives - shelves full of books, cupboards containing clothes, and dust-covered kitchens. A small plot of vines has been wrecked by masonry.
Aftershocks rocked the village yesterday, terrifying survivors and rescue workers.
In the nearby village of Accumoli, tearful locals sat on plastic chairs outside their homes, now too dangerous to enter. "There's nothing left, there's nothing left," one woman screamed.
There have been nearly 500 aftershocks since the initial quake. Despite the danger, rescue workers continued to comb through mounds of rubble and twisted metal.
"We worked all through the night and we won't stop until we are sure there is no one else left to find," said fireman Danilo Dionisi (48). "We're still hoping to pull someone out alive."