Italy holds mass funeral for earthquake victims
President Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and other leaders were among hundreds of mourners who sat solemnly behind 35 coffins in a sports hall in Ascoli Piceno. Some 230 of the quake’s 290 confirmed victims were buried under tonnes of collapsed masonry in the popular beauty spot’s devastated centre.
The hall in the capital of the Marche region had been converted temporarily to a place of worship for the funeral of most of the people who perished in the villages of Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto in the region’s mountainous interior. Hundreds more stood silently outside, the sombre proceedings of the mass relayed to them by loudspeakers.
Relatives of the dead sat alongside the flower-bedecked coffins, some draping themselves across them and sobbing inconsolably, three days after the deadly earthquake struck before dawn. Others hugged each other tight as Giovanni D’Ercole, the bishop of Ascoli, implored them not to lose faith.
“Don’t be afraid to scream your suffering, but do not lose courage. Together we will rebuild our houses and churches, together above all we will give life back to our communities ... the village bells will ring once more,” he said.
Among the coffins was a small, white casket for nine-year- old Giulia, whose body protected her younger sister, Giorgia, for long enough for the five-year-old to be pulled from the rubble virtually unscathed.
Giorgia was one of the last survivors to be rescued and there have been no reports of anyone else being found alive since late Wednesday. On her sister Giulia’s coffin a little note had been left that stated: “Ciao little one. Sorry that we arrived too late.” It had apparently been left by one of the workers involved in the rescue operation. “Giulia died but she was found in a position protecting Giorgia ... life and death came face to face and for Giorgia, life won,” the bishop said.
Mattarella, Italy’s head of state, had earlier paid tribute to the “extraordinary effort” of more than 4,000 rescue professionals and volunteers on a brief visit to Amatrice, the small mountain town hit hardest by the quake.
Three more bodies were plucked from the town’s Hotel Roma overnight and there may be still more bodies to be recovered. Amatrice was packed with visitors when the powerful quake struck in early hours of Wednesday. Nearly 400 people have been hospitalised since then, some of them with life-threatening injuries.