Searchers continued to find bodies following a powerful earthquake in mountainous central Italy early Monday, raising the death toll to at more than 130 people. Tens of thousands were homeless and at least 1,500 injured.
As rescue workers combed through the rubble for survivors and rushed to set up tents for the homeless before night fell, officials warned the death toll could rise further and declined to estimate the number of missing.
The regional government said more than 130 people were confirmed dead, some 16 hours after the quake struck. Italy’s federal Civil Protection agency said the death toll was above 100.
Hospitals appealed for help from doctors and nurses throughout Italy. The smell of gas filled parts of the mountain towns and villages, coming from natural gas mains ruptured by the quake.
The earthquake’s epicenter was about 70 miles northeast of Rome near the medieval city of L’Aquila.
Some 100,000 homeless
The earthquake struck at 3:32 a.m. local time in the quake-prone Abruzzo region, which has had at least nine smaller jolts since the beginning of April. The U.S. Geological Survey said Monday’s quake was magnitude 6.3, but Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics put it at 5.8.
Officials said the death toll was likely to rise as rescue crews clawed through the debris of fallen homes.
L’Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente said some 100,000 people were homeless. It was not clear if that estimate included surrounding towns. Some 10,000 to 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed, officials said.
The four-star, 133-room hotel Hotel Duca degli Abruzzi in L’Aquila’s historic center was heavily damaged but still standing. It was not known if there were any casualties, said Ornella De Luca of the national Civil Protection agency in Rome. “The information is very fragmentary,” she said.
As aftershocks rumbled through, slabs of walls, twisted steel supports, furniture and wire fences were strewn about the streets and a gray dust carpeted sidewalks, cars and residents.
A resident standing by an apartment block that was reduced to the height of an adult said: “This building was four stories high.”
In another part of the city, residents tried to hush the wailing of grief to try to pinpoint the sound of a crying baby.
One survivor, 23-year-old electric engineering student Guido Mariani, described being trapped under bricks for three hours. “I couldn’t get myself out. Fortunately two people stopped the wall from crushing me,” the newspaper La Repubblica quoted him as saying. Next to him was the body of a friend he’d shared an apartment with.
“The emergency crews took more than three hours to arrive,” he said accusingly. “This city is full of police but it was the residents who pulled me out with their bare hands.”
“There are about 20 apartments in the building I live in,” he added. “Who knows how many people are under there.”
The newspaper also described two young lovers who had run away to be together only to die in the village of Onna. Their families discovered their whereabouts when they found their corpses laid out in a field next to each other, La Repubblica said.
As ambulances screamed through the city, firefighters aided by dogs worked feverishly to reach people trapped in fallen buildings, including a student dormitory.
Outside the half-collapsed dorm, tearful young people huddled together, wrapped in blankets, some still in their slippers after being roused from sleep by the quake.
“We managed to come down with other students but we had to sneak through a hole in the stairs as the whole floor came down,” said student Luigi Alfonsi, 22. “I was in bed — it was like it would never end as I heard pieces of the building collapse around me.”
In the historic center of the city, a wall of the 13th century Santa Maria di Collemaggio church collapsed and the bell tower of the Renaissance San Bernadino church also fell. The 16th castle housing the Abruzzo National Museum was damaged.
The town of Castelnuovo also appeared hard hit, with five confirmed dead there.
Another small town, Onno, was almost completely leveled. At least 24 people were killed, said a Reuters photographer who saw a mother and her infant daughter carried away in the same coffin.
“A few houses have remained standing, but just a few,” Stefania Pezzopane, provincial president of L’Aquila, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency, freeing up federal funds to deal with the disaster. He canceled a visit to Russia and went to L’Aquila to deal with the crisis.
Residents and rescue workers hauled away debris from collapsed buildings by hand.
Firefighters pulled a woman covered in dust from the debris of her four-story home. Rescue crews demanded quiet as they listened for signs of life from other people believed still trapped inside.