Death Toll in Italy Earthquake Passes 70: Hundreds Buried as They Slept, Thousands Homeless; Rome, Vatican, Venice Rattled


Rescue workers scrambled to reach survivors buried under rubble in isolated towns and villages across central Italy on Wednesday after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake and a series of strong aftershocks struck the region overnight, collapsing homes, rattling buildings as far away as Rome and Venice and leaving an escalating toll of dead and injured.

At least 73 people were killed in the mountainous heart of the country and more than 100 were missing, according to Italy’s Civil Protection Department. It earlier called the death toll a “temporary number” that may yet climb.

“No family or village or town will be left alone,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in a national address. Saying Italy would vigorously accelerate the ongoing rescue effort, he added, “we will continue to find people alive.”

In the worst-hit towns including Amatrice — famed as the birthplace of the classic amatriciana pasta sauce — rescue workers and local residents desperately clawed through rubble to save buried victims amid a scene of widespread devastation. Several survivors, including a small girl, were plucked alive from heaps of debris. Hospitals in the impacted areas were fast filling up with injured people. Thousands of residents were left homeless.

On the dusty, rubble-strewn streets of Amatrice, three women walked restlessly, one of them in a panicked search for her fiancé. Ten rescue workers with a search dog pinpointed a possible person — or body — buried in the rubble. They labored feverishly with pick axes and tools in the debris of a gutted building.

Nearby, a dazed Mariana Lleshi, a Catholic nun from Albania, walked toward the destroyed religious institute where she lived along with a group of other nuns and elderly women. Of the 20 women who lived there, she said, seven were still unaccounted for. Lleshi clutched her head, where a large bandage covered the wound she sustained as the ceiling collapsed in her bedroom.

“I remember hearing something, a loud noise, and then hiding under my bed,” she said. “I was screaming, and I got out and started running when the ceiling started coming down.”

She said a young Colombian man who was staying overnight at the institute found her in the chaos and guided her out to safety.

“All I could see was destruction around me,” she said. “I had lost all hope to get out of this alive, but God sent me his messenger.”

The main earthquake, centered a shallow six miles below ground, struck at 3:36 a.m. local time about six miles from the town of Norcia in Umbria, a central Italian province known for its rolling hills of olive plantations and vineyards, and about 106 miles northeast of Rome. But the damage was far flung, with devastation striking the narrow, cobblestone streets of historic towns scattered across a sprawling zone including the earthquake-prone provinces of Marche and Lazio, which sustained some of the heaviest casualties.

Images showed heavy rubble from fallen buildings piled high on the narrow streets of old Roman towns. The blocked roads, officials said, were hindering rescuers attempting to reach victims.

A string of aftershocks as strong as 5.5 magnitude continued to hit the affected zone, catching the country during the high August vacation period when large numbers of Italians leave cities and towns for annual holidays.

Luca Cari, spokesman for the Italian fire department, told Reuters that the worst-hit towns were Accumoli, Amatrice, Posta and Arquata del Tronto. Rescue workers took to the air in helicopters to assess the damage at dawn.

Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of the devastated town of Amatrice in the province of Lazio, told RAI that residents were buried under the debris of collapsed buildings.

“The town isn’t here anymore,” he said.

Pirozzi told ANSA that “dozens” had died in his town, suggesting a sharp increase in the death toll as rescue and recovery operations unfolded.

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SOURCE: Stefano Pitrelli and Anthony Faiola 
The Washington Post