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Rescuers still hope for Italy quake survivors

RESCUERS worked frantically in this central Italian city early today, scooping through piles of rubble with their hands in the search for survivors after the country's deadliest earthquake in nearly three decades.

Tens of thousands of people left homeless by the powerful 5.8-magnitude quake slept in makeshift tents that provided little protection against the chilly mountain air; scores of survivors lined up early today for a hot cup of coffee.

Workers dug through the night under powerful lights even as aftershocks continued to spook survivors. Mounting piles of rubble contained evidence of shattered lives: torn clothing, ripped stuffed animals and broken furniture.

Entire blocks were flattened in the mountain city of L'Aquila and nearby villages by Monday's temblor that killed at least 179 people and injured 1,500. More than 70 people were still missing. Firefighters said they had pulled 100 people alive from rubble in the area.

"All of a sudden I heard a boom, and all the books and knickknacks fell down," said Lucia Ferro, a 57-year-old resident who rushed out of her third-floor apartment wearing only her pajamas. "I saw the walls shake, and the table moved by itself."

The quake hit 26 towns and cities around L'Aquila, which lies in a valley surrounded by the Apennine mountains. The nearby village of Onna was nearly leveled, with 38 people out of some 300 inhabitants dead, rescue officials said. Rescuers were still trying to reach more isolated hamlets today.

Firefighters with dogs and a crane worked feverishly to reach people trapped in fallen buildings, including a university dormitory where a half-dozen students were believed still trapped. One body was pulled out after daybreak today, and rescuers continued to dig for three or four still trapped inside, who rescuers feared were dead.

Overnight, rescuers pulled a scared-looking dog with a bleeding paw out of the dormitory rubble. Relatives and friends of the missing stood wrapped in blankets or huddled under umbrellas in the rain as workers pulled out pieces of what seemed like an armoire, a smashed chair, photographs, wallets and diaries.

Elsewhere in L'Aquila, firefighters reported pulling a 21-year-old woman and a 22-year-man from what was an apartment building where many students rented flats. The building's five stories had pancaked into one slab of concrete.

Officials said some 10,000 to 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed, and at least 50,000 people were left homeless.

Italy's national police chief Antonio Manganelli said several people had been arrested for looting from abandoned houses.

The quake also took a severe toll on L'Aquila's prized architectural heritage. Many Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance landmarks were damaged, including part of the red-and-white stone basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.

The bell tower of the 16th-century San Bernardino church and the cupola of the Baroque Sant'Agostino church also fell, the Culture Ministry said. Stones tumbled down from the city's cathedral, which was rebuilt after a 1703 earthquake.

Damage to monuments was reported as far away as Rome, where cracks appeared at the thermal baths built in the 3rd century by the emperor Caracalla, Culture Ministry official Giuseppe Proietti said.

L'Aquila, a city of some 70,000 that is capital of the Abruzzo region, was near the epicenter about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of Rome in a quake-prone region that had felt at least nine smaller jolts since the beginning of April. Italy's National Institute of Geophysics put the magnitude at 5.8. More than a dozen aftershocks followed.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency, freeing up millions in euros to deal with the disaster, and canceled a visit to Russia so he could deal with the crisis.

Condolences poured in from around the world, including from President Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI and Abdullah Gul, president of quake-prone Turkey.

Part of L'Aquila's main hospital was evacuated for fear of collapse, and only two operating rooms were in use. Bloodied victims waited in hospital hallways or in the courtyard and many were being treated in the open.

At one of five tent camps set up, survivors received bread and water. People lay on the grass next to heaps of their belongings.

"It's a catastrophe and an immense shock," said resident Renato Di Stefano, who had moved with his family to the camp as a precaution. "It's struck in the heart of the city, we will never forget the pain."

This was Italy's deadliest quake since Nov. 23, 1980, when a 6.9-magnitude quake hit southern regions, leveling villages and causing some 3,000 deaths.

The last major quake to hit central Italy was a 5.4-magnitude temblor that struck the south-central Molise region on Oct. 31, 2002, killing 28 people, of which 27 were children who died when their school collapsed.


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