Italy probes to see if criminal negligence raised quake toll

AMATRICE, Italy (AP) — Bulldozers with huge claws and other heavy equipment rolled through Italy’s quake-devastated town of Amatrice on Sunday, pulling down dangerously overhanging ledges and clearing rubble as investigators tried to figure out if negligence in enforcing building codes added to the quake’s high death toll.

Investigations will focus on a number of structures, including an elementary school in Amatrice that crumbled when the quake hit Wednesday. The school was renovated in 2012 to resist earthquakes at a cost of 700,000 euros ($785,000).

Questions also surround a bell tower in Accumoli that collapsed, killing a family of four sleeping in a neighboring house, including a baby of 8 months and a 7-year-old boy. That bell tower also had been recently restored with special funds allocated after Italy’s last major earthquake in L’Aquila in 2009.

The quake early Wednesday killed 291 people and injured hundreds as it flattened three medieval towns in central Italy. Giuseppe Saieva, the prosecutor in the regional capital of Rieti, said the high human death toll “cannot only be considered the work of fate.”

He said for now, police investigators remained focused on recovery efforts but once that emergency phase has passed, they will concentrate on the investigations.

Italy’s state museums, meanwhile, embarked on a fundraising campaign, donating their proceeds Sunday to relief and reconstruction efforts in the earthquake zone.

Wednesday’s 6.2 magnitude quake destroyed not only private homes but also churches and other centuries-old cultural treasures. The idea is to use art for art — harnessing the nation’s rich artistic heritage to help recover and restore other objects of beauty in the hard-hit towns.

Culture Minster Dario Franceschini had appealed to Italians to “go to museum in a sign of solidarity with people affected by the earthquake.” On Twitter, the appeal came along with the hashtag #museums4italy.

It’s one of several efforts that have sprung up to help the towns rebuild — restaurants in Italy and elsewhere are also serving up pasta Amatriciana, the region’s most famous dish, in another fundraising effort.

Amatrice bore the brunt of destruction with 230 fatalities and a town turned to rubble. Eleven others died in nearby Accumoli and 50 more in Arquata del Tronto, 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Amatrice.

Overnight was relatively calm, the first since the quake struck without strong aftershocks. In all, the region has seen 1,820 aftershocks, according to the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

On Saturday, mourners prayed, hugged, wept and even applauded as coffins carrying earthquake victims passed by at a state funeral in the town of Ascoli Piceno.

The caskets of 35 people had been brought to a community gym — one of the few structures in the area still intact. The local bishop, Giovanni D’Ercole, celebrated Mass beneath a crucifix he had retrieved from one of the damaged churches.

Emotions that had been dammed up for days broke in a crescendo of grief. One young man wept over a little girl’s white coffin. Another woman gently stroked another small casket. Many mourners were recovering from injuries themselves, some wrapped in bandages.

“It is a great tragedy. There are no words to describe it,” said Gina Razzetti, a resident at the funeral. “Each one of us has our pain inside. We are thinking about the families who lost relatives, who lost their homes, who lost everything.”

As all of Italy observed a day of national mourning, Bishop D’Ercole urged residents to rebuild their communities.

“Don’t be afraid to cry out your suffering — I have seen a lot of this — but please do not lose courage,” D’Ercole said. “Only together can we rebuild our houses and our churches.”

Nobody has been found alive in the ruins since Wednesday, and hopes have vanished of finding any more survivors. The number still missing is uncertain, due to the many visitors seeking a last taste of summer in the Apennine mountains.

President Sergio Mattarella arrived by helicopter Saturday to view the damage in Amatrice and thanked rescue workers who have been toiling around the clock.

Saturday’s funeral involved most of the dead from Arquata del Tronto. Many of the dead from Amatrice, however, are still awaiting identification in a refrigerated morgue in an airport hangar in Rieti, the provincial capital 65 kilometers (40 miles) away.

On Tuesday, a memorial service — without the bodies — will be held for the dead of Amatrice on the battered town’s outskirts.

Hundreds of people have also been left homeless by the quake, with many spending their nights in tent cities and a gym in Amatrice. Longer-term housing needs for earthquake survivors will be another key challenge for Italian authorities.

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