Earthquake: Italy Declares State Of Emergency

In Earthquakes & Tsunamis, Europe, News Headlines

PM authorises preliminary €50m in emergency funding for stricken zone as Amatrice hit by 4.7-magnitude aftershock.

A 4.7-magnitude aftershock has hit the Italian town of Amatrice as rescuers and emergency teams continue their search of three flattened hilltop towns and Italy declares a state of emergency in the region.

With the provisional death toll from Wednesday’s 6.2-magnitude quake standing at 267, including several foreigners, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, authorised a preliminary €50m (£43m) in emergency funding for the stricken zone.

The powerful aftershock, the latest of more than 500 since the initial quake, hit the area shortly after dawn on Friday, sending up plumes of thick grey dust, shaking buildings that were still standing and fuelling fears of fresh collapses which could hamper the rescue operation.

In a first raft of emergency relief measures, Renzi cancelled residents’ taxes in and around the hardest-hit towns of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto, between 60 and 90 miles (95-145km) north-east of Rome.

Most of the confirmed deaths were in Amatrice, where 193 people had died, includingthree Britons: Marcos Burnett, 14, who was on holiday with his parents and sister, and 55-year-old Will Henniker-Gotley and his wife Maria, 51, from south London. Marco’s parents are being treated for minor injuries in hospital.

The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said on Thursday that extra staff had been sent to the region. Six Romanians, a Canadian, a Spaniard and a Salvadoran were also killed.

The 2,500-strong population of the medieval hilltop town, voted one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns last year, was swollen with summer visitors, many from Rome, in anticipation of its popular annual food festival this weekend.

But while 215 people had been pulled alive from the rubble since Wednesday and more than 360 were being treated in hospital, questions were mounting as to why there had been so many deaths in an area known for decades to be the most seismically hazardous in Europe.

After a 2009 earthquake in nearby L’Aquila left 300 people dead, authorities released €1bn to upgrade buildings in the region, but takeup has been low. Despite eight devastating earthquakes in 40 years, experts estimate 70% of Italy’s buildings do not meet seismic standards.

“Here, in the middle of a seismic zone, nothing has ever been done,” Dario Nanni, of Italy’s architects’ council, told Agence France-Presse. “It does not cost that much more when renovating a building to make it comply with earthquake standards. But less than 20% of buildings do.”

The culture minister said 293 historical buildings had been damaged or destroyed by the quake and public prosecutors announced an investigation into whether anyone could be held responsible.

Meanwhile, Renzi announced plans to help the country prepare better and address poor building standards, saying Italy should “have a plan that is not just limited to the management of emergency situations”.

But the prime minister said suggestions that the country could easily construct quake-proof buildings were “absurd”. It was difficult to imagine, he said after a cabinet meeting, that the level of destruction from Wednesday’s quake “could have been avoided simply by using different building technology. We’re talking about medieval-era towns.”

In Amatrice and the surrounding small towns and villages hopes of finding more survivors were fading; no one had been recovered alive since Wednesday night. The focus was now on helping the more than 1,200 people left homeless.

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