By Yusuf Zango
Some victims of the massive earthquake in central Italy were given state burial on Saturday, a day of national mourning during which officials said the provisional death toll from the tragedy had increased to 290.
The magnitude-6.2 quake struck a rugged mountain area between the regions of Umbria, Lazio and Marche early on Wednesday, killing 281 people in three municipalities about 150 kilometers north-east of Rome.
The town worst hit was Amatrice, where 230 bodies were recovered but people were still missing, Italy’s civil defence agency, the Protezione Civile, said.
In two other affected communities the death toll was final: 49 dead in Arquata del Tronto and 11 in Accumoli.
An official funeral was held for 35 of the Arquata dead, in the provincial capital of Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche region.
President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were among the dignitaries in attendance.
During the service, Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole said he had turned in anguish to God and asked: “And now, what do we do? The answer that we can give is silence, hugging and, for me, prayer”.
He said the crucifix hanging in the sports hall where the Mass was held was retrieved from one of the quake-hit towns.
Amid sweltering heat during the service, one of the victims’ relatives fell ill and was brought out on a stretcher, the ANSA news agency reported.
Earlier, Mattarella flew by helicopter to Amatrice, to meet rescue workers and survivors, and also made a stopover in nearby Accumoli. After the funeral, he was due to visit other survivors in the hospital of Ascoli Piceno.
The Protezione Civile said aftershocks were continuing to plague the earthquake area.
More than 1,300 have been counted since Wednesday, including 92 starting from midnight on Saturday, which did not cause any additional damage.
Due to the national day of mourning, flags on public buildings across Italy were flown at half mast and in an additional sign of respect, public broadcaster RAI suspended all advertising on its radio and television channels.
Some 2,500 people have been left homeless by the quake, and authorities said the priority was to allow them to continue living in their towns, ensuring basic services and accommodation in temporary structures.
On Friday, Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said wooden houses would be built near destroyed buildings so that people would not abandon their towns, while the government in Rome pledged to reopen schools as soon as possible “to give a signal” that life would continue.
Meanwhile, Prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva is investigating whether the flouting of building safety regulations aggravated the tragedy, amid outrage over the collapse of a recently renovated elementary school in Amatrice.
No suspects have been identified, but according to the La Repubblica newspaper Saieva presumes foul play.
“What happened cannot be considered just a fatality,” as it looks like some destroyed homes were built “with more sand than cement,” he was quoted as saying. (dpa/NAN)