Last night, more bodies were pulled out of the pile where previously a student dormitory stood. One of the bodies recovered was that of Luca Lunari, a 20-year-old student in computer science from Rieti, central Italy, and father of a 7-month-old baby girl whom he had with his 16-year-old girlfriend. As attempts were made to recover his body from the mountain of debris, tremors shook the earth all around.
"How are we going to pull him out if the earth keeps shaking? My poor son!" cried Luca's mother, who had, according to the local Italian newspaper, Il Tempo, been searching for her son's body in l'Aquila since Monday. Exhausted and choked up with grief, Luca's parents now face attending his funeral, scheduled to take place tomorrow alongside the other victims of the earthquake. For now, his body, along with others, lies at the Guardia di Finanza school.
The focus of the rescue operations is gradually changing direction from rescue to reconstruction. The death toll has now climbed to 279, a number that is expected to rise through the day. Approximately a dozen people are still missing.
Tomorrow, known as Good Friday in the Christian calendar, which solemnly commemorates the crucifixion of Christ -- has also been declared a national day of mourning in Italy.
In an unprecedented move, the Vatican declared that a mass funeral of the earthquake's victims should take place that same day. Normally no masses are conducted on Good Friday as it is a day of somber contemplation. Breaking with convention, Pope Benedict has allowed for the funerals to take place in the open air at the Civil Protection Forces headquarters. All the churches throughout the area have been deemed too unsafe for any ceremonies to be held inside.
The Pope's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, will be attending the Good Friday mass funeral, "as a sign of the Pope's personal closeness to those who are suffering because of the earthquake," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi today. The funeral itself will be led by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, with the participation of all the bishops of the Abruzzo region. The archbishop of l'Aquila, Giuseppe Molinari, will conduct the homily, a commentary during the mass which is expected to focus on the fallout from the earthquake.
Italian President Tours Quake Zone
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano toured the quake zone, stopping at the collapsed student dorm in L'Aquila and visiting the village of Onna, which was completely leveled. President Napolitano also took time to meet with the newly-homeless people at the tent cities. He also stopped at the hangar where the coffins of the victims are being lined up before Friday's funeral.
On Wednesday, the mayor of L'Aquila ordered the city center off-limits, which suffered some of the worst damage in the quake. The debris and continuing aftershocks rocking the already unstable remains have made the area too dangerous to access.
Fierce tremors continue to affect the province, making the rescue and recovery increasingly difficult -- overnight, there were three particularly strong aftershocks, one with a magnitude of 5.2, which caused more buildings to collapse and left residents' nerves on edge.
Earlier this afternoon, the Italian parliament passed a special earthquake decree with funds of $40 million available. The decree states that victims of the quake will have their taxes abated, that the self-employed must be allocated welfare payments, utility bills and loans are to be suspended until further notice and farmers will have their produce collected. For the younger victims, the 200-day minimum school attendance will be waived and a fund of $145 million has been approved to reconstruct damaged school buildings.
Stringent anti-looting measures in the area were also specified in the bill. To date, there were two arrests in the village of Onna, according to Italian news agency Ansa, but the couple was later released after they proved that the amount of money they were carrying – $105,000 – indeed belonged to them.
Ann Wise contributed to the reporting of this story.