Quake relief slow in Italy's remote areas

Sandro Perozzi/AP
Rescuers at work following a strong earthquake, in the village of Onna, central Italy, Monday, April 6, 2009.

In the deadliest earthquake in Italy in 30 years, the death toll had risen to more than 200 on Tuesday. Aftershocks continued throughout the region, hampering rescue efforts and causing thousands to spend Monday night outside in tents or in their cars.

Reuters reports that rescuers worked under floodlights through the night.

"The hopes of finding anyone under the rubble now is very small," said a civil protection agency official at a camp set up outside L’Aquila, the historic mountain city shattered by the quake.

Original story below

MILAN, ITALY – Central Italy was struck Sunday night by a major earthquake, leaving at least 90 people dead and 70,000 others without a home. But because the epicenter of the 6.3 magnitude tremor is in the mountains, it’s not clear yet the extent of the damage or loss of life.

This is a region of remote villages and small towns, which are hard to reach for rescuers.

“The main problem is that we still don't have the whole picture of what's going on in the most remote villages,” explains Tommaso della Longa, spokesman for the Italian Red Cross, speaking on his cell phone while driving toward Abruzzo. The Italian provinces of Lazio and Abruzzo, about 60 miles east of Rome, were hit hardest.

“The situation is changing minute to minute and we are doing what we can. We are also waiting for international aid,” he says.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi canceled a trip to Russia to coordinate the government’s response. He has declared a state of emergency and blocked the roads to the hardest hit regions in order to allow for quicker delivery of aid. The Minister of Defense said the Army will soon be deployed to help civil authorities with the rescue efforts.

Relief aid is flowing and rescue efforts are proceeding well in the area of L'Acquila, the only sizeable town seriously struck. “The response has been fairly quick; portable kitchens and advanced medical facilities have already been set up in the area,” Mr. della Longa says.

L'Acquila is a picturesque medieval city that hosts a university which attracts hundreds of foreign students each year. One dormitory was hit, and half a dozen students are reported missing. The main hospital was severely damaged in the quake and left without a supply of running water and most of its blood reservoirs destroyed.

The same region was struck by a milder quake in March. The Berlusconi government is being criticized for not taking seriously the warnings of one geologist. Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at the National Institute of Gran Sasso, said he had warned last month that a major quake was going to shake Abruzzo. The response? He reportedly was sued by local authorities for generating a false alarm and frightening away tourists. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified the National Institute of Gran Sasso.]

Other earthquake scientists, such as the president of the National Institute of Geophysics, Enzo Boschi, said it wasn't possible to foresee a tremor of this magnitude. Mr. Berlusconi says that he “consulted with the major geophysics experts” after the tremor in March and was told that that no big quake was expected.

At a press conference Monday, Berlusconi asked Italian citizens to donate blood. He also called for those who live in the area to leave their homes: “We cannot exclude the possiblity of another quake in the next few hours,” he said.

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