Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Friday, 10 April 2009 16:59 UK

Mass funeral for Italy quake dead


Thousands mourn at the mass state funeral

Thousands of people have attended a state funeral for 205 people who died in the Abruzzo earthquake, as Italy held a day of mourning.

Victims' families and top politicians were among mourners at the funeral near the damaged city of L'Aquila.

Correspondents say the funeral was an incredibly sad and moving occasion, for many the first chance to come together as a community since the earthquake.

Pope Benedict XVI urged quake survivors to be courageous and hopeful.

"In these dramatic hours when a fearful tragedy has blighted this land, I feel spiritually present, amongst all of you, and I want to share your anguish," he said in an address read out by his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein.

Mourners gather for Good Friday's open-air ceremony in L'Aquila

The government has extended the search for people who could still be alive under the rubble until Sunday.

But rescue workers believe the chances of finding anyone alive after Monday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake are remote and so will focus on recovering bodies and assessing the damage.

Aftershocks are continuing to hamper rescue efforts. On Thursday evening a tremor measuring 4.9, the fourth-largest since the earthquake, brought down a badly damaged four-storey building in the centre of L'Aquila.

The death toll was raised to 289 on Friday morning.

Grief and anger

The earthquake victims were honoured in an open-air service at a police training base outside L'Aquila.

The Vatican granted a special dispensation for the service. Good Friday, marking Jesus Christ's crucifixion, is the only day of the year on which Catholics do not celebrate Mass.

Dozens of coffins bedecked with flowers lay in four rows at the funeral site. Small white caskets containing children's bodies lay on top of their parents'.

Church in L'Aquila

The BBC's Helen Fawkes, at the funeral, says TV pictures of the event did not show those on the edge of the plaza who were finding it too difficult to take part.

The Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of L'Aquila, Giuseppe Molinari, and a senior representative of the Pope, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

At the end of the Christian service, an imam read a prayer. Six Muslim victims are among those being buried.

Afterwards, the coffins were carried away in a procession for burial in L'Aquila's cemetery.

President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also attended. At times visibly upset, Mr Berlusconi offered to put up some of the thousands of people made homeless in some of his many homes.

"I will do what I can too, by offering some of my houses," he said.

Piero Faro, who was mourning a family friend and her son, said that grief was mixed with anger. "Their building simply disintegrated," he said. "This should not have happened."

Building standards

The Italian government has moved to ease financial pressures on the survivors.

It has approved a package of emergency financial measures providing money to pay rents, and suspending gas and electricity bills for two months.

Some residents have been allowed back to their houses to retrieve personal items. Four people had been arrested for looting, Mr Berlusconi said.

Meanwhile, the Italian president has blamed poor construction for many of the deaths.

On Thursday, Mr Napolitano visited both L'Aquila and the devastated nearby village of Onna, as well as one of the camps sheltering some of the 28,000 people left homeless by the quake.

Citing "widespread irresponsibility" in the design and construction of modern buildings, he called for an investigation into why essential buildings standards had not been applied.

Modern buildings that suffered partial or total collapse in the quake include a hospital, city buildings, the provincial seat and university buildings, AFP news agency reports.

At least 16 children, including a five-month-old baby, were killed by Monday's powerful earthquake.

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