Rescuers believe they have found more bodies buried deep in the rubble of the ruined town of Amatrice, five days after a devastating earthquake struck central Italy, killing at least 290 people.
Residents of the hill town estimated up to 10 people were still missing and emergency services said they had located three corpses in Amatrice’s Hotel Roma was wrecked by Wednesday’s quake.
Deputy Mayor Gianluca Carloni said his uncle’s body had still not been recovered from the hotel, which was particularly busy because of a food festival.
“It is absolutely vital to finish as soon as possible this initial (search) phase to make sure that there are no more bodies under the rubble,” he said.
Pope Francis led prayers for the dead in his weekly address in St Peter’s Square in Rome, saying he wanted to go to the earthquake zone to bring comfort to the survivors.
“Dear brothers and sisters, as soon as it is possible, I hope to come and visit you,” he said.
With aftershocks continuing to rattle the region, including a magnitude 4.4 quake centred on the nearby city of Ascoli Piceno, residents were still struggling to absorb the disaster.
Rescue operations in most of the area were halted two days ago, but teams were still combing Amatrice, which is 105km east of Rome.
The fire service said it was trying to remove some of the fallen masonry at the Hotel Roma and create a safe path to retrieve the three bodies as soon as possible.
A number of foreigners were among the dead, including 11 Romanians, the foreign ministry in Bucharest said.
Italy has promised to rebuild the shattered communities and has said it will learn from the mistakes following a similar earthquake in the nearby city of L’Aquila in 2009, where much of the centre is still out of bounds.
The rebuilding effort was stalled following allegations that organised crime groups had muscled in to obtain lucrative contracts.
Italy’s anti-mafia chief Franco Roberti said the experience of L’Aquila would serve well this time around, but warned that the government could not lower its guard.
“The risks are there and it is pointless to pretend otherwise. Post-quake reconstruction is always very appetising for criminal gangs and their business partners.”
Italian authorities have vowed to investigate whether negligence or fraud in adhering to building codes played a role in the high death toll following last week’s earthquake.
Investigations are focusing on a number of structures, including a school in Amatrice which crumbled despite being renovated in 2012 to resist earthquakes at a cost of €700,000.
With children still on their summer holidays, the school was not in use. Many locals were shocked the building did not withstand the 6.2-magnitude quake.
Questions also surround a bell tower in Accumoli which collapsed, killing a family of four sleeping in a neighbouring house, including a baby and a seven-year-old boy.
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