Rescuers hunt for earthquake survivors

Rescuers were continuing to sift through rubble today in the hope of finding more survivors of Italy’s deadliest earthquake in nearly three decades.

The 6.3-magnitude quake struck before dawn yesterday, leaving at least 150 dead, 1,500 injured and tens of thousands homeless.

It destroyed up to 15,000 buildings in and around the city of L’Aquila, which has a population of 70,000 and lies around 60 miles north east of Rome in the Apennine mountains.

Many Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance landmarks were damaged, including part of the red-and-white stone basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.

The bell tower of the 16th-century San Bernardino church and the cupola of the Baroque Sant’Agostino church also fell. Stones tumbled down from the city’s cathedral, which was rebuilt after a 1703 earthquake.

“The damage is more serious than we can imagine,” said Giuseppe Proietti, a Culture Ministry official. “The historic centre of L’Aquila has been devastated.”

The city’s own cultural offices, housed in a 16th-century Spanish castle, were shut down by damage, Proietti said. The damaged fortifications, once perfectly preserved, are also home to a museum of archaeology and art.

Proietti said that reports from the countryside showed many villages around L’Aquila had been heavily damaged, including churches “of great historical interest".

Damage to monuments was reported as far as Rome, with minor cracks at the thermal baths built in the third century by Emperor Caracalla, he said.

It was Italy’s deadliest quake since November 23, 1980, when one measuring 6.9-magnitude hit southern regions, levelling villages and killing 3,000.

The last major quake in central Italy struck the south-central Molise region on October 31, 2002, killing 28 people, including 27 children who died when their school collapsed.

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