Italy earthquake: ‘They won’t be pulling anyone alive out of this’

Death toll rises to 247 as handsome, rural, medieval town is devastated

As you walk up the winding road to Amatrice, you get the sensation that this is a film you have seen before. This handsome, rural, medieval town, cool and welcoming in the Apennine hills on a hot August afternoon, has been devastated.

The number of people killed in Wednesday’s earthquake rose to 247 on Thursday morning, regional and national officials said.

The Civil Protection department in Rome said a tally by local officials showed that 190 people were killed Rieti province and 57 in the province of Ascoli Piceno.

Practically the entire centro storico, or historic old centre, is no longer. There is so much rubble it is as though you have arrived on the morning after a second World War bombing. Mechanical diggers, sniffer dogs and lots of workers all looking for human needles in an ugly cement haystack.

To anyone who was in L’Aquila seven years ago, at the site of an earthquake which claimed the lives of more than 300 people, this was all too familiar. Old buildings, medieval buildings, modern buildings from the 1960s and 1970s all wiped out.

Medical workers

Some buildings, presumably those built according to sound seismic-proof principles, are still standing. The massive 6.2 Richter-scale earthquake which ripped through the heart of central

Italy

at 3.30 yesterday morning, killing at least 247 and leaving thousands from the regions of Lazio,

Umbria

, Abruzzo and Le Marche homeless, was terrifying. It is estimated about half of the victims died in Amatrice alone.

As we walk into the town in the early afternoon, we meet some of the emergency medical workers. They are exhausted and have little desire for chat. Have you managed to pull many people out of the rubble? What sort of injuries do they have? “No injuries – the only people we have pulled out today were dead.”

On the road to Amatrice, 6km from the town, the traffic has stopped. A car pulls up beside us and out steps a middle-aged woman with flowers in her hand. She says she has lost a brother, a sister and a sister-in-law in Amatrice. We always spend the summer here, she says, through her tears.

As always, on occasions of Italian natural disasters like this, there is a strong sense of solidarity.

Volunteers

Many of the Protezione Civile workers are volunteers. When it seems as if the diggers might have found a survivor late in the evening, a hush descends.

Many of these rescue workers have been here since five or six o’clock this morning but they are sticking at it. In the end, there is no survivor, only a false alarm. One tired worker says: “They won’t be pulling anyone alive out of this – it is too bad.”