Italy Laying To Rest Quake Dead
Saturday, 11 April 2009

Hundreds of mourners gathered Friday for the funeral of nearly 300 people killed in last week's devastating earthquake in central Italy, where the ground still shakes from aftershocks.

Across Italy, flags few at half mast, and the country came to a standstill as the state funeral began at 3pm BdST in the quake-ravaged medieval town of L'Aquila or The Eagle, according to media reports.

Dozens of coffins draped with flowers were arrayed in four rows at the site of the funeral, and a tiny white coffin, of Antonio Loavan Ghiroceanu, who would have been 6 months old Saturday, set atop an adult's brown one deepened the sense of loss.

Coinciding with Good Friday, the most sombre day of the Christian calendar marking the death of Jesus Christ, the observance was being held in the vast central courtyard of a military college near hardest-hit L'Aquila in the central Apennine mountains.

"This day is a Way of the Cross for each of us," said L'Aquila provincial president Stefania Pezzopane, referring to Christ's crucifixion.

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was among the first national dignitaries to arrive, saying the Abruzzo victims "are the dead of the entire nation".

President Giorgio Napolitano, other top government officials and Roman Catholic Church leaders were also expected for the open-air service.

Vatican number two Tarcisio Bertone led the funeral mass at the venue, which can hold up to 10,000 people.

L'Aquila's Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari will co-celebrate the observance, which will include Muslim prayers for the six Muslim dead.

Burials will follow at L'Aquila's main cemetery on a hillside not far from the walled medieval city in central Italy, the quake's epicentre that is now a ghost town.

Many families of the at least 289 people reported dead as of early today have already buried their loved ones privately.

The earthquake struck early on Monday, turning the mountainous area around L'Aquila into a disaster zone and flattening some surrounding villages.

Local churches have been badly hit and priests in the predominantly Catholic country have led masses in tent camps for survivors.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, many desperate after spending a fourth cold night in their cars, as strong aftershocks continued to shake the region.

Nerves have frayed over alleged delays in the rescue effort and apparent poor quality construction blamed for increasing the death toll in this earthquake-prone area of the Apennine mountains forming Italy's "spine".

Prosecutors have opened an inquiry into building standards.
As he toured the disaster zone Thursday, president Napolitano blamed "widespread irresponsibility" for the collapse of many modern buildings and called for an "examination of conscience" by those responsible.

"How is it possible that essential standards were not applied, and why were the necessary inspections not carried out?" he asked.

The Italian government has estimated 1.3 billion euros will be needed to repair or rebuild some 10,000 buildings damaged in the quake.

It has pledged to suspend taxes in the region and promised state aid for retailers and farmers whose businesses have been ruined, but critics have said the measures are not enough.

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to visit the region after Easter.

Seismologist predicted quake

An Italian seismologist predicted a major earthquake around L'Aquila, just weeks before the disaster struck. However, he was reported to the authorities for spreading panic.

The first tremors in the region were felt in mid-January and continued at regular intervals, creating a growing alarm in the city.

When questioned on whether the government heeded the warnings, Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi went on the defensive. "It is impossible to predict something like this," he said. "There is no one who can say when the next shock will come, in the next hours or coming days."

Vans with loudspeakers drove round the town warning residents to prepare for a major earthquake, a move which incensed the mayor.

Giampaolo Giuliani, the scientist who made the discovery, said: "The instrument we used identified the point and we saw the seismic precursor, a sign that a quake is on the way within 6 to 24 hours."


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