Italy prepares to mourn quake victims as hopes for survivors dim

ROME — Italy on Saturday will hold state funerals for the victims of a devastating quake that hit central Lazio and Marche regions on Aug. 24, authorities said on Friday.

Meanwhile, rescue teams kept digging in a race against time for last survivors.

They managed to save 238 people alive from under the rubbles. Yet, hopes to find someone still alive, some 70 hours after the major temblor, were fading away.

At least 278 people died, Italy’s civil protection department stated in late afternoon.

Some 218 people were killed in Amatrice, 49 in Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto, and 11 in Accumoli. These were the towns and villages worst hit by the 6.0-magnitude quake, which struck early Wednesday.

According to firefighters officials, no more people were missing in the Marche region. The toll would remain provisional, however, since about 15 were still unaccounted for in Amatrice, Lazio.

Some children would be among those missing, Ansa news agency cited mayor Sergio Pirozzi as reporting.

“Just a miracle could make our friends come out alive from the rubbles, but we will keep digging,” Pirozzi said.

The mayor also acknowledged there were no more buildings inside Amatrice’s historic center that could be secured and possibly restored.

“Aside from San Francis Romanesque church, all the rest is gone,” he told Ansa.

State funerals were planned in the city of Ascoli Piceno, near the village of Arquata del Tronto that was flattened by the quake.

Funeral services will be celebrated at 11:30 local time (0930 GMT) on Saturday by Ascoli’s bishop in a large sport facility, and at the presence of top authorities, the Italian government stated.

A day of national mourning will be declared, with half-mast flags all across the country, it added.

President of the Italian republic Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and Lower House chairwoman Laura Boldrini will be among the top officials paying tribute to the victims.

Meanwhile, more than 900 aftershocks have been registered since after the first quake, according to the National Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (INGV).

Some of the tremors were intense, and sparked alarm in both population and rescue teams.

A 4.8-magnitude temblor was indeed registered at 6:28 a.m. local time (0428 GMT) on Friday, forcing rescuers to halt their activities for fear of further collapses.

A major bridge near Amatrice, which was crucial to rescuers and aid transportation, was shut and declared unfit for use after this late tremor, the civil protection said.

An estimated 2,500 people were displaced in the quake, the worst such event to struck Italy since the 2009 temblor in the city of L’Aquila that killed more than 300 people. PNA/Alessandra Cardone-Xinhua/