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Italy eligible for billions in earthquake aid as price put on disaster

Italy is eligible to tap into an EU solidarity fund to help the country's earthquake victims. Reconstruction, the government says, could cost up to 12 billion euros.

A front hoe tearing down a partially collapsed building near L'Aquila

Italian rescuers have been tearing down partially collapsed buildings near L'Aquila

Half-a-billion euros ($665 million) in European Union funds could be made available to help reconstruction efforts in Italy following last week's devastating earthquake, a top EU official has said.

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani said the Italian government had 10 weeks in which it could apply for the money. The financial support comes from a "solidarity fund" available to the EU's 27 member nations in the event of natural disasters.

"In addition, some structural funds destined for Abruzzi and Italy can be re-allocated, so I think without exaggerating that a sum of 500 million euros can be reached," Tajani said.

At least 294 people were killed and more than 35,000 left homeless by the quake, which struck the central Abruzzi region northeast of Rome on April 6.

Sniffer dog searching rubble for survivors in L'Aquila.

Rescuers were hopeful of finding survivors

Billions needed

The Italian government estimates that some 12 billion euros overall will be needed to reconstruct homes and other buildings in areas badly damaged by the quake, including L’Aquila, a city of more than 70,000 inhabitants, which bore the brunt of the tremor.

The disaster struck in the midst of the country’s worst recession since World War II. Italy’s center-right government is already battling Europe's largest debt, but has said it would offer incentives for using anti-earthquake technology and has promised monthly payments to residents who lost their livelihoods.

Previous reconstruction efforts following earthquakes in southern Italy have dragged on for decades, amid allegations of corruption and Mafia interference.

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