[Rescuers stood on rubble in the Italian village of Onna. Little remains of the town, where Monday's earthquake claimed 40 lives from a population of some 300.
Photo: Christophe Simon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images]
As the death toll continues to climb in Italy's central Abruzzo region following Monday's devastating earthquake, related news is pouring from the region.The Italian news agency ANSA said Wednesday that the official death toll has risen to 250, with 11 people still missing. The Associated Press says that 17,700 people left homeless by the quake had found shelter in tent camps set up by authorities. Another 10,000 people were placed in hotels along the Adriatic coast, bringing the overall number of homeless to almost 28,000.
Rescue operations were hampered on Tuesday evening after a powerful aftershock rocked the region and was felt as far away as Rome. The minister for relations with parliament, Elio Vito, told the Senate Wednesday that the government will soon declare a national day of mourning for the victims. A collective funeral will be celebrated in L'Aquila on Friday for the victims of the quake.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised that beginning immediately, “every room and every crack” in “tens of thousands of homes” in the quake-ravaged region will be inspected by trained technicians, reports The New York Times. Apparently, the experts will be trying to establish the structural soundness of the buildings and will try to understand why some buildings were able to withstand the 6.3-magnitude earthquake while others could not.
Some experts and officials have suggested that lax enforcement of building standards might have played a role in the devastation. For example, many historic buildings didn't hold up under the quake, but neither did many modern structures including the San Giuliano hospital in L’Aquila, which had to be evacuated, and a dormitory for the University of L’Aquila, where several students died.
Ermete Realacci, an environmental expert and lawmaker with the Democratic Party, the largest opposition party, has argued that Berlusconi’s conservative coalition has pressed for more relaxed building standards, citing proposed legislation to increase construction by loosening limits on home size. Realacci has said that such a measure drastically “simplified anti-seismic laws."
ANSA also reports that Mafia bosses were among prisoners in L'Aquila's top-security jail that were transferred to other facilities early Wednesday morning, amid continued aftershocks that have rocked the capital city of Abruzzo.The department of prisons reportedly moved inmates at about 2 a.m. as a precautionary measure despite a survey revealing no structural damage to the jail. ''It was an operation without precedents carried out not so much because of structural risks to the prison but to avoid dangerous tensions among the prisoners,'' said Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, according to ANSA.
Around 70 prison vehicles were required to transfer the detainees and it took 12 hours to evacuate the prison completely. About 140 prisoners have been confined to the prison in L'Aquila under regulations that are used for Italy's most dangerous criminals to prevent them from continuing to run their affairs from their cells. Under the high security regime, inmates are kept in single-person cells and are almost entirely cut off from the outside world.
No word on whether anyone escaped during the late-night prison move.
Pop superstar Madonna, whose paternal grandparents lived in the village of Pacentro near L'Aquila until 1919, has donated about $750,000 US towards relief and reconstruction efforts. Madonna, whose birth name is Madonna Louise Ciccone, reportedly said that she was ''happy to lend a helping hand to the town that my ancestors are from.''