Page last updated at 06:33 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 07:33 UK

Survivors huddle in broken city

By Dominic Hughes
BBC News, L'Aquila

Homeless residents are staying in 'tent villages' set up to house them

As you approach L'Aquila, the city looks untouched by the powerful earthquake that rocked the town.

But as you reach the edge of the city, at the coach station there are hundreds of people huddled around rucksacks and suitcases.

These are some of the thousands who find they can't return to homes that are too badly damaged and it is only close up that you notice in fact that almost every building has been affected - lumps of plaster missing from facades, windows broken or missing altogether.

And then, a little further into town, the damage becomes more serious.

Whole buildings have collapsed leaving a huge pile of dusty rubble and twisted metal.

It is impossible to tell what some of these buildings were before they were reduced to a pile of broken concrete.

But on the road in front of one of these buildings, some personal belongings have been salvaged. A photo of an elderly couple toasting each other sits in a shattered glass frame. A grey woollen shawl lies in the road.

Covered in dust

The intermittent heavy showers are turning the brick dust into a white sludge, but on top of the pile of rubble, dozens of weary looking emergency workers, all covered in dust, are pulling away bricks and broken pieces of wood with their bare hands.

Meanwhile, a crane and diggers stand by and the crane lifts out of the wreckage what is left of a sofa bed. Bricks and debris fall away as the tangled metal rises clear of the wreckage.

Couple in tent just outside L'Aquila
Shocked survivors are gathering in refugee camps outside the city

Two bodies have already been recovered from this building and rescue workers think five more people may be trapped inside.

They will work throughout the night in an effort to get them out. The next 48 hours will be crucial in the rescue effort.

Meanwhile, tremors still rock the town - one came just as I was writing the previous sentence.

It brings a brief pause in the rescue but then the wail of ambulances resumes and a fleet of emergency vehicles tears past.

And as evening fell, tens of thousands of people prepared to spend the night homeless. Tents have been set up in fields around the town.

But darkness did not stop the rescue effort.

Five thousand firemen, soldiers and Red Cross workers battled on in the hope of pulling some survivors free.

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