Italy 'Will Build a New Town' From Rubble, PM Says

More than 200 dead, thousands homeless after Italy's worst quake in decades.

April 7, 2009, 8:49 AM

L'AQUILA, Italy, April 7, 2009 — -- One person was reported dead after a major aftershock struck in the evening near the Italian town of L'Aquila, as residents continued to come to terms with losses from Monday's devastating earthquake.

Residents reportedly fled shelters and already damaged buildings when the aftershock struck, sending chunks of concrete falling into the streets.

The "Catastrophe in Abruzzo," as it is being called, has so far claimed 235 lives, according the rescue coordination center of l'Aquila.

But amidst the grim increase in the casualty count, there were signs that the rescue operations were still yielding survivors who had managed to stay alive despite having been trapped in the rubble for over 40 hours.

One young woman, Eleonora Calesini, a 20 year-old student, was pulled out at 21:30 local time from a five-floor building on via Poggio all'Aquila where she lived with other female students. She was reported to be in good condition and was taken by helicopter to hospital.

It was an incredible stroke of luck for the young student - Eleonora suffers from hearing problems and there were fears that her condition would make finding her all the more difficult. She would have been unable to listen out for signs that attempts were being made to rescue her as she removes her hearing aid every night.

The latest temblor, rated a 5.6 by the United States Geological Survey, was felt as far away as Rome. It did not deter rescue efforts, however, as teams continued to sift through the rubble in hopes of finding survivors.

Thunderstorms and as many as 300 aftershocks have posed extra challenges to the round-the-clock rescue effort.

Overnight and this morning, workers continued to clear debris and look for survivors.

Rescue workers were still finding survivors trapped among the dead overnight. Twenty-seven hours after the 6.2 magnitude quake hit, Valeria Esposito gave the rescue workers hope as they successfully extracted her from the fallen remains of student lodgings in L'Aquila, the BBC reported.

Sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers also managed to free a young girl from the rubble near the town hall of L'Aquila. She was trapped next to the dead bodies of her mother and sister. "Thank you, thank you," she told her rescuers.

After one particularly strong tremor this morning, the Italian news agency ANSA reported that terrified people scrambled out of their cars and dodged the debris falling from the buildings. Television pictures showed rescue workers rushing out of one such building after severe shocks.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged at a news conference today to "build a new town" from the rubble.

So far, 150 people have been pulled out of the rubble alive. Of the hundreds injured, 100 cases are serious, Berlusconi said.

Berlusconi also said that 34 people are still missing and are known to be buried under rubble.

He added that the search for survivors would continue for another 48 hours. Rescue operations are proceeding in "an absolutely satisfactory manner," Berlusconi told reporters.

As Berlusconi toured the damaged sites, he told reporters that he had "a long phone call" with President Obama about a U.S. offer to pick up the tab for the reconstruction of the historical monuments and churches in the area.

Berlusconi said Obama told him they would talk about it during the Italian leader's next trip to Washington.

The estimated number of people left homeless since the quake has fallen to 17,000 from 70,000 throughout the Abruzzo region; 10,000 of those are from L'Aquila itself.

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The village of Onna was one of the worst-hit places in the area, almost entirely reduced to rubble. One nearby resident told ABC News that he rushed over to the site soon after the earthquake hit.

"Twenty four hours ago there was a whole village," he said. "Now there's nothing. ... We're all waiting, we don't know what to do, we can't do anything."

Emotions ran high Monday as rescue workers and firefighters fought to find survivors.

Teams of people furiously searched through the rubble of a collapsed dormitory of the University of L'Aquila.

"We dug with our hands," firefighter Domenico Di Bartolomeo told ABC News. "There was a 21-year-old student trapped and we got her out. Only her collarbone was broken."

Berlusconi said that four students are missing at the dorm.

Italian Channel 6 showed the rescue this morning of Maria D'Antuono, a tiny 98-year-old woman who had been trapped in her house for 30 hours. Firefighters dusted her off after bringing her down with a crane, and offered her water and some crackers. When asked what she did for all those hours, she said, "I knitted. There wasn't room to do anything else."

At the Berlusconi news conference today, the head of civil protection, Guido Bertolaso, said, "The Abruzzo people are stronger than the quake itself."

Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he was "praying for the victims and in particular for the children" caught up in the tragedy.

President Obama also sent his condolences "to the families" affected and expressed hope that the damage would be minimized "as much as possible."

The prime minister acknowledged the support offered by foreign governments and thanked them, but said, "We are able to respond to the needs on our own," urging foreign governments not to send food aid or tents to Italy.

"We are a proud and well-off country, and I thank them but we can manage on our own," he said.

Italy itself has one of the best civil protection agencies in Europe; it offered Greece substantial help in 2007 after wildfires spread out of control in the southern part of the country.

Did the Government Ignore Quake Warnings?

It was Italy's deadliest quake since Nov. 23, 1980, when one measuring 6.9 magnitude hit southern regions, leveling villages and killing 3,000.

Structures that had lasted centuries collapsed in the quake. Heritage Ministry Secretary-General Giuseppe Proietti told ANSA that the city gateway of Porta Napoli, built in 1548 in honor of Emperor Charles V, tumbled to the ground. A large part of the 13th-century Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio also collapsed, he said.

The historic village center of Tempera, east of L'Aquila, is in ruins. Up to 90 percent of the homes here have been heavily damaged.

Amid the devastation erupted a dispute over whether Italian authorities ignored a warning that a devastating quake was about to hit the region.

Gioacchino Giuliani, who is a resident of L'Aquila and works for the National Astrophysics Institute, began warning about a month ago of an impending jolt. While the area has been rattled by a series of minor quakes since January, Giuliani said he based his prediction on the concentrations of radon gas around seismically active areas.

People were urged to evacuate their homes, but police forced Giuliani to take his prediction down from his Web site and accused him of "spreading alarm."

Giuliani is demanding an apology, but Italian scientists are not giving him one.

They argue that it is impossible to predict earthquakes and the radon theory has not been proved. They also note that Giuliani said the earthquake would hit another town, Sulmona, not L'Aquila.

"There was never anything written, all verbal," Enzo Boschi, head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, told ANSA.

"I don't know if the predictions based on radon will have a future or not, but the point is that Giuliani foresaw a catastrophic earthquake at Sulmona in mid-March, and a few days ago he foresaw another earthquake, and this past night he slept in L'Aquila," Boschi said.

The quake struck at 3:32 a.m. local time (9:32 p.m. ET Sunday) in a quake-prone region that has suffered at least nine smaller jolts since the beginning of April.

Miguel Marquez and Phoebe Natanson contributed reporting from L'Aquila; Ann Wise contributed from Rome; and Zoe Magee contributed from London. The Associated Press also contributed to the reporting.

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