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The earthquake has wiped out villages in Italy's Abruzzo region. Rescuers are still looking for survivors. Sometimes there is a strange hush over the disaster site. DW's Bernd Riegert reports from Amatrice.
The clock is ticking for rescue teams in the devastated Italian village of Amatrice. "There is still a chance because people buried or trapped can sometimes survive two or three days," said one of the rescue workers, who has come from the Bologna region with his search dog. The dogs are led through the piles of debris that had been stately homes before the earthquake. If a dog barks, it means there may be a hollow space where people are trapped. Firefighters then carefully climb onto the mound of rubble. The leader blows a loud whistle and calls for silence. After that, even journalists must interrupt broadcasts as rescue workers hope to hear signs of life.
Waiting to be rescued
When and if people are found, they often must hold out for hours while wooden beams, concrete slabs and bricks are carefully removed to prevent the rest of the building from caving in and burying the people even deeper. Suddenly, the earth starts shaking again. The rescue teams quickly leave the pile of debris, even though it is difficult to escape an aftershock.
The facade of a convent was spared destruction during the earthquake, but the floors of the old structure collapsed like a house of cards. Up to seven nuns are thought to be buried in the rubble. In hopes of finding the women, rescuers use a bulldozer to break the walls and windows of the rooms still intact. This goes on the whole night although it is extremely difficult in the dark and dangerous for the rescue workers. Many areas, like Amatrice, face power outages caused by the severe tremors.
Brief visit from Renzi
In the former convent garden, a survivor prays and asks: "Why has God done this to us?" A parish priest from Amatrice, which was known for its beautiful churches, is speechless. "I can say nothing." He only hopes that the community can find the strength to somehow go on.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has offered assistance to the rescue teams, accommodation for the homeless and help with possible reconstruction. He makes a quick stop at a sports field and pats some paramedics and firefighters on the back. He thanks them for their dedication and pledges quick financial support to the mountain villages destroyed by the earthquake. "All of Italy must now stand together," he says. After a few minutes, the Italian leader is gone.
In the neighboring city of L'Aquila, people are still waiting for state help, years after the devastating earthquake there. "The people there still live in container homes," said an Italian photographer who works for Australian magazines. "Years, if not decades, will pass before this here is standing again."
The main access road to Amatrice buckled during the earthquake. On one stretch, the asphalt hangs in the air. Rescuers can only walk by single file. The hospital of Amatrice, also heavily damaged, is located on that road. The Red Cross and hospital staff have set up an open air emergency hospital in the parking lot. Sometimes rescue teams bring a patient. Sometimes only bodies are retrieved. Many children are among the victims, as they often spend holidays in the tranquil setting of Amatrice, which was named the most beautiful village in Italy. The dead are wrapped in white cotton cloth and carried by firefighters through the demolished streets. Scuffles often occur as dozens of journalists are trying to capture these horrible scenes and then post or tweet their images and videos.
Donations are welcome
Help has arrived from all over Italy. Trucks, ambulances and police cars have caused congestion on the main road. Aid workers have to provide for themselves and organize accommodation and sanitary facilities. They have built encampments in empty spaces in the valley. A tent camp has also been set up for the homeless. No one knows how long they have to stay there. Radio stations have asked people to offer shelter if they have extra space at home. Blood is being donated in neighboring towns. Even in Rome, collection points have been set up for donations.