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Page last updated at 18:47 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 19:47 UK

Death toll rises in Italy quake

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Luisa Baldini describes an aftershock that hit L'Aquila on Tuesday evening

At least 207 people have been killed by Monday's earthquake in central Italy, with 100 residents critically injured, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says.

He said 150 people had been rescued alive so far, and the operation would continue for a further 48 hours and involve 7,000 rescuers.

About 1,000 people were injured and 17,000 were left homeless following the pre-dawn quake in the Abruzzo region.

Thousands spent the night in emergency accommodation amid continuing tremors.

Another strong aftershock, with a magnitude of about 5.5, struck central Italy on Tuesday evening.

It brought down masonry from buildings already damaged by the earthquake and was felt as far away as Rome.

Rescuers remove a body from a university dormitory in L'Aquila

Earlier Mr Berlusconi, appearing at a news conference in L'Aquila, the medieval city worst hit, thanked all involved in the rescue effort.

"There have been serious risks for the lives of those who are carrying out the rescue operation so far, inside buildings that have been damaged and, following another tremor, could easily collapse," he said.

"So therefore this is a very dangerous situation for the rescuers."

Home inspections

Hospitals have appealed for help from doctors and nurses throughout Italy.

Mr Berlusconi said another 48 hours would be enough to ascertain if anyone else was still alive.

Dominic Hughes
Latest from Dominic Hughes in Fossa, a village near L'Aquila


Successes are becoming rarer. At two o'clock this morning a woman was rescued by a team of expert cavers after a long and painstaking operation to remove huge slabs of concrete.

But with every passing hour the likelihood of finding survivors is reduced.

Apart from the search for survivors the most urgent task is to find some kind of accommodation for thousands of people who are now unable to return to their damaged homes.

Many of them have already spent one night in tents or sleeping in cars, suddenly refugees in their own country.

"We have tried-and-tested mechanisms for the rescue operations that have been used before by the civil protection agency," he said.

He said that starting from Wednesday specialists would start checking individual buildings.

"The most delicate phase begins tomorrow because we have to inspect homes to check the damage," he said.

"We will inspect one room after another in thousands of homes."

Of the 207 who died, Mr Berlusconi said 190 people had been identified and the other 17 were awaiting formal identification.

About 15 people were still thought to be missing, but it was possible they had left the area without notifying authorities or relatives, he said.

As rescue efforts continued:

  • A 98-year-old woman was pulled out alive in L'Aquila after being trapped for 30 hours, local media report. She spent the time crocheting
  • Four students have been located in a collapsed university hall of residence, but remain trapped under large chunks of masonry, the Associated Press reports. It is not known whether they are alive or dead
  • A 23-year-old student was pulled alive with the help of specialist cavers from the rubble of a four-storey building in L'Aquila more than 22 hours after the quake struck
  • L'Aquila and the surrounding area were without water

Vulnerable buildings

Of the injured, 500 people were treated in hospitals, including 179 at regional hospitals, allowing families to visit them.

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Survivors spent the night in hotels or at one of several tent camps which have been erected in the medieval hill city.

However, many preferred to sleep in their cars near their homes rather than to move to the camps.

Mr Berlusconi has refused foreign aid, saying Italians were "proud people" and had sufficient resources to deal with the crisis.

But AFP news agency quoted him as saying he could accept funds from Washington to help restore historical buildings.

Between 3,000 and 10,000 buildings are thought to have been damaged in L'Aquila, making the 13th-Century city of 70,000 uninhabitable for some time.

Parts of many of the ancient churches and castles in and around the city have collapsed.

L'Aquila is considered one of Italy's architectural treasures, but the age of the buildings makes them vulnerable to quakes.

In the nearby village of Onna, with a population 350, the quake killed at least 38 people and flattened buildings.

Evidence of the human tragedy of the quake is evident, with personal belongings among the rubble of houses, says our correspondent in Onna.



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