As political leaders gathered for the funeral Mass, rescuers kept searching through the rubble of the worst hit town, Amatrice, even though they had little hope of finding more survivors from Italy’s worst quake in seven years.
Nine more bodies were recovered from the town on Saturday, including three corpses that were pulled overnight from the crumpled Hotel Roma, bringing the death toll in Amatrice alone to 230 residents and tourists.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella flew to the town by helicopter on Saturday to see the damage for himself before travelling on to the nearby city of Ascoli Piceno for the funeral service held in a sports centre.
Some 35 varnished wood coffins were lined up in sports hall, including white caskets containing the remains of two of the 21 children killed in the disaster. The youngest victim was five months old. The oldest was 93.
Foreigners who died in the calamity included six Romanians, three Britons, a Spanish woman, a Canadian and an Albanian. The area is popular with vacationers and local authorities are still struggling to pin down how many visitors were there when the quake hit.
Mourners gathered in Ascoli Piceno hours before the service was due to begin to pay their respects.
“Even if I didn’t know them my heart broke for them. My thoughts are with them because there are people who have lost everything, homes, loved ones,” said local resident, Luciana Cavicchiuni.
“These things should not happen,” she said.
Most of the buildings in the quake zone had no anti-seismic protection, but even some of those that did, including a school in Amatrice that was renovated in 2012, fell apart.
Magistrates have opened an investigation into some of the incidents, including the collapse of a belltower in the town of Accumoli, which smashed through the roof of an adjacent building killing a family of four.
“What happened cannot just be considered fate,” said prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva, who is leading the probe. “If these buildings had been constructed like they are in Japan then they would not have collapsed,” he told la Repubblica newspaper.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who also attended the funeral, has promised to rebuild the shattered communities and the mayor of Amatrice urged the government to learn the lesson of painfully slow post-quake reconstructions of the past.
“What we need is a reconstruction in record time. It is a great opportunity for politicians to show extraordinary commitment,” mayor Sergio Pirozzi told president Mattarella.
Aftershocks continued to rattle the area overnight, the strongest measuring 4.2. The Italian geological institute said some 1,332 aftershocks have hit Italy’s central mountains since Wednesday’s predawn 6.2 magnitude quake.
Italy sits on two fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe. Almost 30 people died in earthquakes in northern Italy in 2012 while more than 300 died in the nearby city of L’Aquila in 2009.