Funerals begin for victims of Italian earthquake

A rescue worker Friday kisses the coffin of a child killed by this week's earthquake in central Italy.
The youngest hadn’t even lived half a year. The oldest had lived nearly a hundred of them.

The official government list of victims from this week’s earthquake in central Italy reached 287 on Friday, when Italians planned a mass state funeral to lay the victims to rest. They included Antonio Loavan Ghiroceanu, who was born December 11 2008. He would have turned six-months old on Saturday. The oldest-known victim of the quake was Evandro Testa, 96, who was born in 1913 — before Italy joined the Allies in World War I and Benito Mussolini became dictator. More than 200 caskets were being prepared for the funeral, which began at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) in Copito, a town adjacent to the earthquake’s epicenter of L’Aquila. The service is being held at a customs police training school, where a hangar is being used as morgue because of damage to the city’s main hospital, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported. All of the area’s cardinals and bishops, along with 100 priests, are attending the special funeral mass. Papal envoy Cardinal Bertone plans to read a message from Pope Benedict XVI, and Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari of L’Aquila also plans to deliver a message.

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Mourners will also have the chance to celebrate communion with a chalice donated by the pope. The 6.3-magnitude quake Monday morning left about 30,000 people without their homes. Almost 20,000 of them are braving chilly nights in tents while about 11,000 others are staying in hotels, said Agostino Miozzo, a spokesman for the Italian Civil Protection Agency. Recovering from such losses and rebuilding the city of L’Aquila will take several years, according to Miozzo. The medieval city is about 120 km (75 miles) northeast of Rome. Tremors have continued to rumble through the region all week. On Thursday, a magnitude-4.5 earthquake struck the coastal city of Pescara, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of L’Aquila. Aftershocks heightened anxiety in the area — including a moderate 5.6 magnitude tremor that struck the area Tuesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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“The mood is a little bit afraid,” said Marco Volponi of the Civil Protection agency. He was working in a tent camp, housing people whose homes were inhabitable. 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 son, Fabio, 20, to the 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, foldup beds and feeding 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.”