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Killer quake brings carnage to Italy mountain resorts
By Ella IDE with Angus MACKINNON in Rome
Accumoli, Italy (AFP) Aug 24, 2016

'We only heard their cats': quake sorrow of Italian village
Accumoli, Italy (AFP) Aug 24, 2016 - Sitting with his brother on a bench in Illica, one of the Italian mountain villages devastated by a powerful earthquake on Wednesday, Guido Bordo clasps and unclasps his hands repeatedly.

The harrowed gesture speaks volumes about the anguish engulfing the 69-year-old.

"My sister and her husband are under the rubble, we're waiting for diggers but they can't get up here," he explains to AFP.

"There's no sound from them, we only heard their cats. I wasn't here, but as soon as the quake happened I rushed here.

"They managed to pull my sister's children out, they're in hospital now."

Bordo and his brother Domenico were among around 30 people sitting in a field on the outskirts of Illica. Their sister and her husband, who were on holiday from Rome, were among five people missing, presumed dead, in Illica alone.

Dozens more died in neighbouring villages and more than 2,000 people have been made temporarily homeless by a quake that struck without warning in the middle of the night.

Just after midday, nearly nine hours after the first quake shook residents and holiday makers from their sleep in terrifying fashion, army diggers were still making their way up to a village situated at an altitude of 800 metres (2,600 feet).

A helicopter buzzed overhead while an ambulance unloaded two stretchers near a collapsed house where around a dozen firemen hacked at the rubble with spades and pick axes.

All around were poignant signs of the destruction the quake wreaked: window shutters poking out from piles of rubble, flower baskets still clinging on to half-collapsed walls and brightly-coloured children's duvet covers catching the eye in houses that have become see-through.

In some of the deserted shells of what were once family homes, phones rang off the hook.

- 'Feared the worst' -

Two women sobbed and hugged each other as a collapsed house on the main square was searched.

Firemen guided two dogs over the piles of rubble in search of signs of life.

One of the sniffers suddenly stopped and went back to a particular spot.

That was where the digging would start but Daniela Romanato, a former firefighter helping out with the rescue operation, did not hold out much hope.

"The dogs are trained to search and then indicate trapped people," she explained. "Just now one has indicated there is someone underneath the rubble here, but without barking, which unfortunately means the person trapped is most likely dead.

"We're sending a smaller dog in now to see if it can get closer to the person underneath, but it's very unlikely we're talking about survivors under here".

The wind was whipping up the dust and, at the entrance to the tiny hamlet, children were dressed in the winter coats and flip flops they grabbed when the quake struck.

Some had since gone back inside for mattresses and pillows and laid them out in gardens. Civil protection workers distributed sandwiches and water.

Guido Bordo's brother, Domenico, looked on as the search progressed.

"We live quite far away but felt the quake, we rushed to get news from the television, and as soon as we saw it was here we called my sister again and again but she didn't answer," he said.

"I feared the worst, and was right. I don't see how she can have survived under there."

A powerful earthquake shook central Italy on Wednesday, leaving at least 120 people dead and a trail of destruction across several mountain villages packed with holidaymakers.

With 368 people injured, some critically, and an unknown number trapped under rubble, the death toll from the pre-dawn quake was expected to rise, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told reporters after visiting the badly-hit village of Amatrice.

"This is not a final toll," he warned as hundreds of emergency services staff and volunteers prepared to work through the night in the hope of plucking more survivors from the ruins.

Renzi said it was too early to begin a debate on what might have been done to prevent the disaster.

"Today is the time for tears and emotion," he said, vowing that his government would start reconstruction work first thing on Thursday.

Hundreds of people were to spend a chilly night in hastily-assembled tents with the risk of aftershocks making it too risky for them to return home.

Scores of buildings were reduced to dusty piles of masonry in communities close to the epicentre of the quake, which had a magnitude of between 6.0 and 6.2.

It hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio at a time of year when second-home owners and other visitors swell the numbers staying there. Many of the victims were from Rome.

The devastated area is just north of L'Aquila, the city where some 300 people died in another quake in 2009.

Most of the deaths occurred in and around the villages of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto.

- Anguish -

Guido Bordo, 69, lost his sister and her husband after they were trapped inside their holiday house in the hamlet of Illica, near Accumoli.

"There's no sound from them, we only heard their cats," he told AFP before the deaths were confirmed.

"I wasn't here. As soon as the quake happened, I rushed here. They managed to pull my sister's children out, they're in hospital now," he added, wringing his hands in anguish.

Among the victims was a nine-month-old baby girl whose parents survived, an 18-month-old toddler and two other young children who died with their parents in Accumoli.

Two boys aged four and seven were saved by their quick-thinking grandmother, who ushered them under a bed as soon as the shaking began, according to reports. She also survived but lost her husband.

- Bodies in playground -

It was Italy's most powerful earthquake since the 2009 disaster in L'Aquila.

"Half the village has disappeared," said Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi, surveying a town centre that looked as if had been subjected to a bombing raid.

Pope Francis expressed his shock. "To hear the mayor of Amatrice say his village no longer exists and knowing that there are children among the victims, is very upsetting for me," he said.

The tremors were strong enough to be felt 150 kilometres (90 miles) away in Rome, where authorities ordered structural tests on the Colosseum.

Some of the worst damage was in Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region where the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children's play park.

With residents advised not to go back into their homes, temporary campsites were being set up in Amatrice and Accumoli as authorities looked to find emergency accommodation for more than 2,000 people.

Amatrice is a hilltop beauty spot famed as the home of amatriciana, one of Italy's favourite pasta sauces. It is popular with Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer.

It was packed with visitors when the quake struck at 3:36am (0136 GMT).

Three minutes later the clock on the village's 13th-century tower stopped.

- 'Out of the blue' -

The first quake measured 6.2, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which said it occurred at a shallow depth of 10 kilometres (six miles).

It measured 6.0 according to Italian monitors, who put the depth at only four km. A 5.4-magnitude aftershock followed an hour later.

Italy is vulnerable to earthquakes.

The 2009 tragedy in L'Aquila led to lengthy recriminations over lax building controls and the failure of authorities to warn residents that a quake could be imminent.

David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at Britain's Open University, said the shallow depth of Wednesday's quake had made it more destructive.

But he added: "Unlike the L'Aquila quake, which was preceded by swarms of smaller quakes and led to claims -- unjustified in my view -- that the eventual big quake should have been predicted, this one appears to have struck out of the blue."

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