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Hugs and kisses for Italian earthquake victims as Charles visits devastated town

The Prince of Wales has shared an emotional encounter with the Italian survivors of a devastating earthquake that reduced their homes to rubble and left hundreds dead.

Charles grasped hands, kissed well-wishers and comforted one man with a hug as he toured the small town of Amatrice that bore the brunt of the deadly tremor that stuck last summer as residents slept.

Wearing a hard hat he was taken into the rubble-strewn "red zone'' of the settlement and saw for himself the devastation but it was a trip he made without the town's mayor Sergio Pirozzi who said the experience would be "too painful".

The prince walked up to the town's civic tower - a grim reminder of the natural disaster as its clock stopped at 3.36am, the moment the 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck Amatrice and nearby villages on August 24 last year, killing almost 300 people in the region.

When Charles first arrived, he was greeted by Mayor Pirozzi and told him: "The people in Britain mind very much what's happened to you all here." Later he laid a bouquet of local flowers in memory of those killed.

Charles was greeted by emotional scenes as he toured Amatrice, outside the red zone, with one woman weeping after briefly welcoming him while a man clasped hands with the heir to the throne, who hugged him in return.

Lifelong Amatrice resident Fernanda Ciancaglioni gave the royal visitor a kiss when he stopped to talk.

Speaking afterwards through an interpreter, the 73-year-old, who has been a hairdresser for 55 years but lost her business in the disaster, said: "In my area, three buildings collapsed and 22 people died in my square.

"I was awake in the early hours of the morning and felt it all, I thought my building was going to collapse but it didn't and the earthquake eventually came to an end, and I just grabbed the first thing I could find to put on and came out in my slippers.

"It was dark and I used my phone to light the way from the sixth floor of my block, everything was broken and there was rubble on the stairs.

"When I got outside I went to see my friend who lived across the road and when I got to the square I saw two buildings which had just collapsed and people were crying and looking for their loved ones in the rubble.''

Charles met a woman who knew British couple Maria and William Henniker-Gotley, who died in the hamlet of Sommati when the earthquake struck.

The husband and wife were reportedly staying in the same villa as 14-year-old Briton Marcos Burnett who also died.

Luciana Cursi said afterwards: "I was friends of Maria and William, they used to come to our home and it is a huge, huge loss for us."

The heir to the throne is on a nine-day tour of Europe with Camilla, who spent her day in Florence learning about some of the cultural attractions that draw so many visitors to the city.

During his time in Amatrice the Prince shared a lighter moment with sisters Maria Paola and Massimiliana Fioravanti, living in new accommodation built for families who lost their homes, who reminisced about a visit the Pope made to their small town and their encounter with him.

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