Strong aftershock felt in Italy as death toll rises

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rome - A strong aftershock with a magnitude of 5.5 to 5.7 on the MMS scale was felt in Italy's Abruzzo region as rescue operations entered into the second day on Tuesday, while the death toll rose to more than 200.

Italian Primier Silvio Berlusconi called for national solidarity "to face the situation by ourselves."

Local media confirmed that the aftershock in the evening damaged an ancient-time church and many houses partly damaged by Monday's main earthquake totally destroyed.

On Tuesday Mr Berlusconi said the danger was not over yet. "There can be other small earthquakes in coming days, so it is better that people do not return home," he told local residents.

"The victims so far are 207," Mr Berlusconi told a press conference earlier in the day in L'Aquila when visiting the towns hit by Monday's earthquake.

"Of these victims, 190 have been identified while other 17 remain unidentified, 15 people are missing and there are more than 1 000 injured, 100 of which are in serious conditions."

Civil protection men, he said, were working hard and for the next 48 hours rescuers will search for other survivors.

"More than 7 000 men are at work. These people risk their lives and I want to congratulate myself with them, they are doing an extraordinary job considering the frequent ground movements complicate rescuing operations."

At the press briefing, Mr Berlusconi said there were no problems regarding financial aid. The government has already activated the natural calamities' fund to face housing reconstruction and survivors' needs.

"We must do all we can to guarantee a rapid help to those that are still under the ruins of the buildings. Rescue efforts are constant and must never cease, our men are using optic fiber video-cameras to search underground," he said.

Talking about the progress of rescue work, Mr Berlusconi said "1 000 firemen and 4 000 rescuers are being employed" in the areas hit by the earthquake.

Regarding entrepreneurs who have lost their job, the premier said the "government will include in the unemployment benefits' reform financial help for Abruzzo's businessmen whose economic activities have been destroyed."

The problem of listing damaged cultural monuments will be faced in a second moment. "People come first, this is our slogan," said Mr Berlusconi, adding that only then will they think of reconstructing Abruzzo's national heritage.

In the other developments, rescuers on Tuesday officially called a halt to the rescue operation in Onna, the small town near L'Aquila which was worst hit in Monday's earthquake.

Forty people died from a population of 350 in the town, which is situated 10 kilometers from the Abruzzo capital of L'Aquila.

Firemen said they would now concentrate on removing rubble and securing buildings in the remains of Onna, where plaster continued to crumble as aftershocks continued on Tuesday.