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State funeral for Italian quake victims

ITALY held a state funeral yesterday for victims of its worst earthquake in three decades, as the death toll climbed to 289 and survivors voiced anger that houses simply collapsed.

Thousands of mourners gathered before 205 coffins, many of them covered by flowers and photos of the dead, laid out in the parade ground of a police academy in the mountain city of L'Aquila, the worst hit by Monday's 6.3-magnitude quake. Small white caskets with the bodies of children lay on their parents' coffins, some with a favorite toy placed on top.

"There is a lot of sadness today but also a lot of anger," said Piero Faro, who came to pay his respects to family friend Paola Pugliesi, 65, who died with her son Giuseppe, 45. "Their building simply disintegrated. This should not have happened."

Five days after the earthquake, rescuers were still digging bodies from the rubble, with a 53-year-old woman and her teenage daughter found dead in the wreckage of their home overnight. But the Civil Protection agency said the search was almost over.

Violent aftershocks, some felt in nearby Rome, continued to shake the Abruzzo region overnight, damaging buildings in medieval towns and terrifying the 17,000 people living in tent villages.

Attention is now starting to turn to the reconstruction of a region that relies on tourism, farming and family firms. Italy's industry minister said more than half of the companies in Abruzzo "are no longer producing." One estimate put the damage at up to 3 billion euros (US$4 billion).

The government plans to suspend some tax, utility and phone bills in the affected areas and has earmarked 100 million euros for rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts.

The government has also announced an enquiry. President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday said shoddy construction was to blame for the collapse of modern buildings, including a hospital and student hostel, that should have been earthquake-proof.

"People need to search their consciences," he said.

Local builders, however, said some of the damage would prove to be superficial. "We are not killers," said builder Filiberto Cicchetti. "Ninety percent of private housing built outside the city walls from the 60s on is still viable ... The city will be reborn."


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