Aftershocks rattle quake rescue efforts

A rescue worker sifts through rubbe on Tuesday in L'Aquila, Italy.
The arduous work of combing through rubble and treating the wounded of this medieval city continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning, even as the death toll from the powerful earthquake that rocked the area continued to climb.

By late Tuesday night, 235 people had been confirmed dead, according to the Italian Civil Protection Agency, which was helping with recovery efforts in L’Aquila, about 120 km (75 miles) northeast of Rome. Earlier in the day, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that many people were still missing and that 100 out of the about 1,000 people injured were in serious condition. According to CNN eyewitness accounts and Italian emergency medical staff, rescuers pulled a woman out of the rubble alive some 42 hours after the quake hit in the early morning hours of Monday. The woman was being transferred to a hospital in Rome, according to Dr. Emanuela Troiani Sevi, who worked in a field hospital set up in L’Aquila to care for those injured by the earthquake. Two other survivors were also pulled out earlier, Sevi said. Aftershocks heightened anxiety in the area — including a moderate 5.6 magnitude temblor that struck the area Tuesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. “The mood is a little bit afraid,” Marco Volponi, of the Civil Protection agency, said. He was working in a tent camp, housing people whose homes were inhabitable.

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In the nearby village of Onna, 40 people — more than one out of every eight residents in the town of 300 — were killed in the earthquake. On some streets, every single home was destroyed. Anna Rita Difilice lost her 20-year-old son, Fabio, to the 6.3-magnitude quake — the deadliest to strike Italy in decades and the first major quake in the country in seven years. She said she doesn’t know what comes next for her — her village on Wednesday morning had become populated with tents, cots and stations handing out food, water and other supplies for survivors. But she said she knew one thing — she’s not going anywhere. “My son died here,” she said. “There is no way I’m leaving this town — not ever.” Even the hospital in L’Aquila was so damaged it couldn’t be used. Droves of injured were arriving at a makeshift medical station Tuesday, after the hospital was deemed structurally unsound. “I can say there’s hardly a building which was left without some sign of what has happened in the historical center of L’Aquila,” Berlusconi said. “All the public buildings have been affected.” Well past 3 a.m. Wednesday, medical staff at the center continued the constant work of treating those injured. Berlusconi declared a state of emergency and canceled a trip to Russia to oversee the rescue efforts. The earthquake followed less than six hours after another quake hit the northern part of the country, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. Seismic activity is not uncommon in Italy, which is sandwiched between the European and African tectonic plates, and USGS geophysicist Amy Vaughan called the region geographically “complex.” In 1997, an earthquake in the Umbria region, killed 10 people, left tens of thousands homeless and seriously damaged monuments and artwork, including the town of Assisi’s famed Basilica of St. Francis. As public and private aide began flowing to the region, one village received help from a high-profile source. Pop superstar Madonna’s paternal grandparents lived in the village of Pacentro until 1919. On Tuesday, the mayor of that village publicly asked her to help bring attention to the plight of the area — which she visited several years ago during a concert tour.

Madonna’s publicist said the star heard about the the challenge from fans Tuesday morning and “immediately” made a “substantial donation.” People magazine was quoting an unnamed source saying it was a $500,000 donation.