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Aftershocks terror for earthquake survivors

Roads closed for safety as Italy death toll climbs to 250

By Paolo Santalucia

Aftershocks in central Italy have rattled residents and rescue workers searching for earthquake survivors.

A day after a shallow quake killed 250 people and levelled three small towns, a 4.3 magnitude aftershock sent up plumes of thick dust in the hard-hit town of Amatrice, crumbling already cracked buildings and prompting authorities to close roads.

It was only one of more than 470 tremors that followed Wednesday's pre-dawn quake.

Firefighters and rescue crews using sniffer dogs worked in teams around the hard-hit areas in central Italy, pulling chunks of cement, rock and metal from mounds of rubble where homes once stood.

Rescuers refused to say when their work would shift from saving lives to recovering bodies, noting that one person was pulled alive from the rubble 72 hours after the 2009 quake in the Italian town of L'Aquila.

"We will work relentlessly until the last person is found and will make sure no one is trapped," said Lorenzo Botti, a rescue team spokesman.

Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli, near Rieti, 60 miles north-east of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 15 miles further to the east.

Many were left homeless, their houses and apartments declared uninhabitable. Some survivors, escorted by firefighters, were allowed to go back inside homes briefly to get necessities for an extended absence.

"Last night we slept in the car. Tonight, I don't know," said Nello Caffini as he carried his sister-in-law's belongings on his head after being allowed to go quickly into her home in Pescara del Tronto.

Charitable assistance began pouring into the earthquake zone in traffic-clogging droves on Thursday.

Church groups from a variety of Christian denominations, along with farmers offering peaches, pumpkins and plums, sent vans along the one-way road into Amatrice that was already packed with emergency vehicles and trucks carrying sniffer dogs. Other assistance was spiritual.

"When we learned that the hardest hit place was here, we came, we spoke to our bishop and he encouraged us to come here to comfort the families of the victims," said the Reverend Marco as he walked through Pescara del Tronto.

Italy's civil protection agency said the death toll had risen to 250, with at least 365 others injured. Most of the dead - 184 - were in Amatrice. A Spaniard and five Romanians were among the casualties, according to their governments.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised there will be a rebuilding programme and guaranteed "a reconstruction that will allow residents to live in these communities, to relaunch these beautiful towns that have a wonderful past that will never end".

Belfast Telegraph


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