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Italy death toll rises to 275

RESCUERS removed three more bodies from a collapsed university dormitory in central Italy early today, raising to 275 the death toll in the country's worst earthquake in three decades.

The last body was pulled out of the four-story structure in the city of L'Aquila just after dawn, and family members maintained their vigil up until the end, said rescue coordinator Antonio Panaro.

At least seven students, including an Israeli, died in the dormitory, which became a focal point of grief in this devastated city.

Signaling the end of the operation, huge excavators moved in and began dismantling the dorm.

"No one else is missing. There are no parents left waiting, but of course we will carefully verify that there isn't anyone else," Panaro.

But elsewhere in the city and the stricken region, search operations continued for as many as 10 people still missing.

Strong aftershocks overnight rattled residents - nearly 18,000 of whom are living in tent camps around the stricken region. An additional 10,000 have been put up in seaside hotels, out of the quake zone.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano arrived today to see the damage in L'Aquila.

Officials have urged residents not to sleep in their homes - but some could not resist at least looking from outside to see if they could assess the damage.

Anti-looting patrols have increased in the quake zone and some residents stayed in cars near their homes to keep watch all the same. Premier Silvio Berlusconi yesterday said stiffer anti-looting measures would be introduced amid reports that the problem was on the rise.

Two people were arrested for suspected looting yesterday in the nearly leveled town of Onna, the ANSA news agency said, citing police. They were freed after proving to police the 80,000 (US$105,000) they had on them was theirs, ANSA said.

L'Aquila's police chief, Filippo Piritore, striding through the city this morning, said no arrests had been made in the city for looting, pointing to heavy police patrols. He said some people have been stopped who appeared to be intent on robbing unattended homes and other properties.

L'Aquila's medieval center has been completely closed to any traffic, making the center a ghost city.

The magnitude-6.3 quake hit L'Aquila and several towns covering 230 square miles (600 square kilometers) in central Italy early Monday, leveling buildings and reducing entire blocks to piles of rubble. It was the worst quake to hit Italy in three decades.

Sixteen of the dead were children, Berlusconi said, and of the injured, 100 remained in serious condition.

Yesterday, the first funerals were held for the victims, including for Giuseppe Chiavaroli, 24, a football player in a lower-division team who was killed along with his girlfriend in Monday's quake.

The Vatican's No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was to conduct a funeral Mass for most of the victims on Friday, Vatican officials said.

The Vatican granted a special dispensation for the Mass, because Good Friday, which marks Jesus' death by crucifixion, is the only day in the year in which Mass in not celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church.

The funeral will be held outdoors, as no churches are stable enough to host a Mass.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI would visit the affected area sometime after Easter Sunday and that he does not want to interfere with relief operations. The pope praised the aid operations as an example of how solidarity can help overcome "even the most painful trials."


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