‘The town isn’t here’: Italy quake kills 247, rescuers search for survivors

Rescue crews using bulldozers and their bare hands raced to dig out survivors Thursday from a strong earthquake that reduced three central Italian towns to rubble. The death toll rose to 247, but the number of dead and missing was uncertain given the thousands of vacationers in the area for summer’s final days.

Residents wakened before dawn by the temblor emerged from their crumbled homes to find what they described as apocalyptic scenes “like Dante’s Inferno,” with entire blocks of buildings turned into piles of sand and rock, thick dust choking the air and a putrid smell of gas.
“The town isn’t here anymore,” said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of the hardest-hit town, Amatrice. “I believe the toll will rise.”
The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at 3:36am on Wednesday and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where residents woke to a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The temblor shook the Lazio region and Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast, a highly seismic area that has witnessed major quakes in the past and continued to shake early Thursday with aftershocks.
Dozens of people were pulled out alive by rescue teams and volunteers that poured in from around Italy.
In the evening, about 17 hours after the quake struck, firefighters pulled a 10-year-old girl alive from the rubble in Pescara del Tronto.
“You can hear something under here. Quiet, quiet,” one rescue worker said, before soon urging her on: “Come on, Giulia, come on, Giulia.”
Cheers broke out when she was pulled out.
And there were wails when bodies emerged.

Volunteers work to move rubble and debris during search and rescue operations in Amatrice. (AFP)

“Unfortunately, 90% we pull out are dead, but some make it, that’s why we are here,” said Christian Bianchetti, a volunteer from Rieti who was working in devastated Amatrice where flood lights were set up so the rescue could continue through the night.

Premier Matteo Renzi visited the zone Wednesday, greeted rescue teams and survivors, and pledged that “No family, no city, no hamlet will be left behind.” Italy’s civil protection agency reported the death toll had risen to 247 early Thursday; at least 368 others were injured.
Worst affected were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometers further east. Italy’s civil protection agency set up tent cities around each hamlet to accommodate the thousands of homeless. In Amatrice, the elderly and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.
Italy’s health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, visiting the devastated area, said many of the victims were children: The quake zone is a popular spot for Romans with second homes, and the population swells in August when most Italians take their summer holiday before school resumes.
The medieval center of Amatrice was devastated, with rescue crews digging by hand to get to trapped residents.
The birthplace of the famed spaghetti all’ amatriciana bacon and tomato sauce, the city was full for this weekend’s planned festival honoring its native dish. Guests filled its top Hotel Roma, famed for its amatriciana, where five bodies were pulled from the rubble before the operation was suspended when conditions became too dangerous late Wednesday. Among those killed was an 11-year-old boy who had initially shown signs of life.
Officials initially said about 70 guests were staying at the hotel, but later lowered the number to about 35, many of whom got out in time.
Carlo Cardinali, a local fire official taking part in the search efforts at the hotel, told Sky TG24 that about 10 guests were still missing.
Amatrice is made up of 69 hamlets that teams from around Italy were working to reach with sniffer dogs, earth movers and other heavy equipment.
In the city centre, rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 200 aftershocks jolted the region throughout the day, some as strong as magnitude 5.1.
“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” marveled resident Maria Gianni. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit, luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”

Posted by on August 25, 2016. Filed under State. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.