Hundreds die in Italy quake

April 7th, 2009 | by Ainsley |

As of the time of writing 0730GMT, April 7), at least 179 people are known to have lost their lives in Italy’s deadly earthquake. Another 1,500 have been left injured and at least 17,000 homeless. Some 34 remain unaccounted for.

The quake struck just after 0.30am UK time on April 6 and measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. As many as 10,000 buildings in the medieval central Italian town of L’Aquila – near its epicentre and home to 70,000 inhabitants – have been left in ruins. Many of the city’s ancient churches and castles have been damaged.

Around 4,000 emergency workers spent the night desperately trying to find survivors, many using their bare hands to claw through rubble. The rescue effort was hampered by rain and as many as 200 aftershocks, which dislodged more masonry from damaged buildings. However, up to 100 survivors are believed to have been pulled from the devastation.

They included a girl of two, dug out of the ruins of her home at San Gregorio on the outskirts of L’Aquila – where she had lain under the corpse of her mother, who had cradled the child to protect her. One firefighter said: “It was tragic to see. The girl has been injured and has been taken to hospital by helicopter but her mother sadly died. She shielded her from the debris.”

Survivors have told how the tremor felt like a bomb blast. One L’Aquila resident, Angela Palumbo, 87, said: “I woke up hearing what sounded like a bomb. We managed to escape with things falling all around us. Everything was shaking, furniture falling. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like this in my life.”

As well as L’Aquila, 95 kilometres north-east of Rome, 25 other towns and villages lie in ruins. They include Onna, which officials grimly said had been “wiped off the map”. Rows of coffins lay in the village’s fields as more than one in 10 of its 350 residents were killed. Gianfranco Fini, speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament, confirmed: “Some towns have been virtually destroyed in their entirety.”

The quake lasted for around 30 seconds and was felt in Rome and even Naples, 100 miles away. Briton Matthew Peacock, his wife and his son, five, felt the jolt in Amelia, 60 miles north of Rome. He said: “It was quite an extraordinary experience. It felt like the house was being shaken from the rooftop. My bed was banging against the wall and you could hear this creaking. I rushed across the hallway to my son, grabbed him and stood underneath the doorway. The earth really felt like jelly underfoot.”

Barry Raven, who lives in Monte San Marino, 60 miles from L’Aquila, said he woke to find the house shaking. He said: “When you felt it you were thinking, ‘Is this the beginning or the end?’”

Many devastated towns and cities were left looking like bomb sites, with dazed survivors wandering through the wreckage clutching salvaged personal items. In L’Aquila, ambulance sirens filled the air. And medics had to tend to hundreds of bloodied survivors outside the main hospital as colleagues inside struggled to cope with the number of casualties.

Offers of support have come in from across the continent but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi insisted Italy had the resources to cope with the catastrophe.

A row erupted after researcher Giampaolo Giuliani claimed he had predicted the catastrophe by measuring emissions of the radioactive gas, radon. Vans with loudspeakers drove around L’Aquila a month ago, warning residents to evacuate their houses. But Mr Giuliani was reported to authorities for “spreading alarm” and was forced to remove his findings from the internet as officials worked to reassure locals.

After the disaster, Mr Giuliani, who is attached to Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics, said: “We have been able to predict these kinds of events for 10 years. There are people who owe me an apology. It is they who must carry the weight of what has happened on their conscience.”

But the head of Italy’s National Geophysics Institute dismissed his claims and said: “Every time there is an earthquake there are people who claim to have predicted it. As far as I know nobody predicted this earthquake with precision. It is not possible to predict earthquakes.”

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