Investigation announced into building standards in quake zone

L’Aquila’s chief prosecutor today announced an investigation into allegations of shoddy construction as workers continued to scour the rubble for people still missing after a devastating earthquake five days ago.

Rescuers pulled one more body from a collapsed building this morning, raising the death toll to 291.

Workers also picked through the rubble of a block of flats in L’Aquila after dogs trained to look for survivors indicated there might be life in the debris, but firemen at the scene cautioned against concluding that a survivor was inside.

Sounds emanating from the rubble could be water running, an appliance or even an animal, rescuers said.

“The work is long, tiring and delicate, because you risk causing a cave-in. It is useless to work too quickly,” said Luca Cari, a spokesman for the firefighters.

Engineers and geologists have said buildings constructed to seismic-safety standards should not have collapsed in a 6.3-magnitude quake, raising the possibility that either building codes were not followed or that shoddy materials were used in some cases.

L’Aquila prosecutor Alfredo Rossini said he had opened a probe into possible criminal blame for the collapses, according to Italian media.

“We have the duty to verify whether some buildings were really constructed out of sand, as has been indicated from several sources, or in other cases without steel,” Rossini told the Rome daily La Repubblica.

Rossini declined to list the suspicious buildings, but among those that crumbled or have been designated uninhabitable by the quake are a university dormitory and a hospital, both of which were built after seismic standards were raised.

Firefighters picking through the rubble of some buildings said some of the reinforced concrete pillars they had removed seemed to have been made poorly, possibly with sand.

They said rescuers using saws or other instruments usually split the pillars cleanly. But in some buildings in L’Aquila, the pillars crumbled into dust, indicating a lot of sand might have been mixed into the cement, they said.

The quake-stricken population of Abruzzo got a bit of a break overnight from aftershocks to Monday’s devastating earthquake. While seismic activity continued throughout the night into today, much of it was at a level not felt by the population, civil protection authorities said. That allowed people in the region to have the first relatively calm night since the quake.

Tent cities housing 24,000 people were preparing for Easter celebrations. The Pope sent a delivery of chocolate Easter eggs for the youngest survivors.

An additional 15,000 people have been put up in seaside hotels, out of the quake zone.

A collective funeral service was held on Friday for more than 200 victims.

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