Italy quake aftermath death toll at 241

As the search continued into a second day for survivors of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake which struck central Italy on Wednesday morning, and the number of those killed rose to 241, extraordinary stories have started to emerge of those who escaped death as their historic villages came shuddering down around them.

In Pescara del Tronto, a tiny Apennine village practically wiped off the side of the mountain, a distraught grandmother described how she had two granddaughters caught up in the quake - one lived, the other died.

Angela Cafini said that as their house began to shake shortly after 3.30am on Wednesday, her eight-year-old granddaughter Guilia threw herself onto her four-year-old sister. 

Guilia was dead by the time rescue teams could reach the pair, but her actions are believed to have saved the life of her sister who, her grandmother said, escaped without any injuries.

"They were together. One was alive and the other was dead. Georgia had used her body to protect her little sister because she was not harmed at all," Ms Cafini told the Mail Online. "It is a miracle that she is alive, but I am torn. I have lost one granddaughter and one has lived."

In the same village, dramatic live TV footage captured the moment another little girl, this one aged 10, was pulled from the rubble by emergency responders working to clear debris with their bare hands.

Cheering and applause erupted as the girl, lying flat in the dust under a large metal girder for more than 17 hours, emerged into the arms of a rescuer, clearly dazed.

But while the tremors of Wednesday's quake were felt from Bologna in the north to Naples in the south, the vast majority of the damage and the casualties appear to have been born by one town, famous across the country for a pasta dish which bears its name.

Amatrice continued to crumble on Thursday afternoon as powerful aftershocks, some themselves measuring above magnitude 4 according to the US Geological Survey, did further damage to a town once voted one of the most beautiful in Italy.

By the account of the town's mayor, Sergio Pirozzi, up to 200 of the dead were residents or visitors, swelling Amatrice's population ahead of the 50th annual festival celebrating "spaghetti all'Amatriciana", which was supposed to take place this weekend.

That tally suggests as many as one in 10 of the town's 2,000 people have died. Mr Pirozzi told state broadcaster Rai: "I left my home and the ancient gate to the town of Amatrice, which is from 1400, wasn't there any more."

"When the gate falls, the slate is wiped clean," he said, deploying a Latin phrase - tabula rasa. "So in fact, the town is no more. Our heart is broken, but it will be resurrected," he said.

When the quake struck Amatrice, half a convent collapsed completely, killing three nuns and four elderly women.

But in the part that was not fully destroyed, a nun from Albania described how she survived by hiding under her bed. A striking image of her, reclining on the ground with a blood-stained habit, featured in news reports on the quake from around the world. Sister Mariana said two other nuns escaped holding hands. "They saved each other," she said. "They took their hands even while it was falling apart, and they ran, and they survived."

While a handful of survivors were pulled from the wreckage on Thursday, it looked increasingly like the search and rescue operation was moving towards an effort to recover bodies.

Mr Pirozzi said he had received no news to give him hope for more survivors since Wednesday evening. And as the afternoon wore on, firefighters started leading those who escaped the worst of the damage back to their homes. Many of the buildings in the three worst-affected towns have been declared unsafe to enter, but those who can are being allowed to recover some belongings. They are likely to be homeless for some time.

Among the wider Italian public, thoughts turned today to the question of whether more should have been done to avert the worst impacts of Wednesday's quake.

"The Apennine mountains in central Italy have the highest seismic hazard in Western Europe and earthquakes of this magnitude are common," said Dr Richard Walters, a lecturer in Earth sciences at Durham University.

Modern buildings in the region are required by law to be built to high anti-seismic standards, yet the codes are not always applied to the letter - in some cases, not at all. There was shock that in Amatrice, the local hospital was rendered "unusable" by the quake, while the town's historic 16th-century clock tower stood as if untouched.

Despite a massive rescue and relief effort with army, Alpine crews, carabineri, firefighters, Red Cross crews and volunteers, it wasn't enough. A few miles north of Amatrice, in Illica, residents complained that rescue workers were slow to arrive and that loved ones were trapped. 

"We are waiting for the military," said Alessandra Cappellanti. "There is a base in Ascoli, one in Rieti and we have not seen a single soldier. We pay! It's disgusting!" 

As to the effort to rebuild, the mayor of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said he feared for the future of the town. "I hope they don't forget us," he told Sky TG24.

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