Italy earthquake death toll rises to 283

The death toll from Italy's earthquake rose to 283 Thursday as the government said it would increase emergency aid funding for the ravaged medieval city of L'Aquila to 100 million euros ($162.5 million Cdn).

Emergency aid funding rises, aftershocks lead to closing of L'Aquila's downtown

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, centre, is briefed by firefighters as he tours the village of Onna in central Italy on Thursday. ((Sandro Perozzi/Associated Press))

The death toll from Italy's earthquake rose to 283 on Thursday as the government said it would increase emergency aid funding for the ravaged medieval city of L'Aquila to 100 million euros ($162.5 million Cdn).

Earlier Thursday, workers removed three bodies from the rubble of a university dormitory — ending the search for students missing after a deadly earthquake in the region.

A forestry department officer stands by the rubble of a collapsed house, in the devastated village of Onna on Thursday. ((Luca Bruno/Associated Press))

"No one else is missing. There are no parents left waiting," said rescue co-ordinator Antonio Panaro.

Family and friends had gathered around the rubble of the four-storey structure waiting for word of missing loved ones since Monday's earthquake in the mountainous Abruzzo region northeast of Rome.

Officials have confirmed that at least seven university students died when the dormitory collapsed.

At least 1,000 people were also injured in Monday's quake; about 100 are still listed in serious condition, officials said.

The magnitude of the quake, which had an epicentre 110 kilometres northeast of Rome in the Abruzzo region of the Apennine Mountains, was measured as 6.3 by the U.S. Geological Survey, and 5.8 by Italy's National Institute of Geophysics.

Large pieces of excavation machinery were moved in to begin dismantling what is left of the dorm on Thursday.

Panaro said all students residing in the dorm have now been accounted for, but officials will continue to proceed carefully in case there is anyone else in the debris.

Search operations were continuing elsewhere in the city, where 10 people are still listed as missing.

Rescue workers told reporters on Thursday that no survivors have been found since late Tuesday.

Officials have confirmed that the search and rescue effort will continue until after Easter Sunday.

State funeral on Friday

The earthquake struck at about 3:32 a.m. local time Monday, with the epicentre 110 kilometres northeast of Rome. ((CBC))

A mass state funeral conducted by the Vatican's Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will be held outdoors on Friday because no churches in the region have been deemed stable enough to host the mass.

A national day of mourning will also be held on Friday ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's expected visit to the region following the Easter weekend.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the region on Thursday, including a 5.3 magnitude tremor that caused officials to cordon off the historic city centre of L'Aquila out of fears more buildings could crumble.

Aftershocks are common in the earthquake-prone region. After a 1997 earthquake, the area experienced a three-month stretch of such tremors.

"Let's hope these aftershocks stop because it's very difficult for our rescue workers and for survivors as well," Angelo Cutaia, a civil protection official, told Reuters.

As many as 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed in the 26 cities, towns and villages that were shaken.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano arrived in the region on Thursday to survey the damage and to prepare for the state funeral.

"I am here out of duty, emotion and also gratitude for everything that you are doing," Napolitano told rescue workers after visiting a makeshift mortuary at a local hangar where the coffins of the victims are lined up for Friday's funeral.

Reconstruction will cost billions

Firefighters inspect the devastated village of Onna in central Italy on Thursday. ((Antonio Calanni/Associated Press))

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met with his cabinet in Rome on Thursday to approve reconstruction spending and tax breaks for the affected communities.

Berlusconi said Thursday that reconstruction, which is hoped to be completed within two years, will cost several billion euros.

At least 18,000 people who were left homeless by the quake have remained in the area, now residing in one of the 20 tent cities that have been built in fields in the region.

Officials estimate that another 10,000 people have left the quake zone to stay with loved ones or to take advantage of free temporary lodging at hotels on the coast.

Reported lootings have seen patrols increased in the region while some people have parked their cars outside their crumbling homes to keep vigil.

A man speaks with a priest in a tent camp in L'Aquila on Thursday. ((Italy Diaster Society/Reuters))

"We have been waiting for three days for the rescue workers to come and help us get some basic necessities," L'Aquila resident Stefano Dedonadis, 22, told Reuters. Dedonadis has been sleeping in a car outside the rubble of his apartment buildings for two nights.

"We are completely powerless. We have nothing but these clothes," he said.

Many of the people living in the tent cities left their wallets and bank cards in their homes when they fled Monday's quake.

Mobile post offices have been set up in every tent city to help displaced victims to access accounts, pick up their pensions, receive money, pay bills and top up cellular phones, officials said.

Damaged parts of the city, including the downtown core, will remain cordoned off until at least May, officials said Thursday.

Some businesses reopen

Some pharmacies, grocery stores, butchers and hardware stores began reopening on Thursday.

Business is slow, said Antonio Nardecchia, who opened a meat stall selling roasted chickens and sausages.

"We opened up today to try to sell some meat before it spoils," Nardecchia said. "I don't see much of a future. It is not like everything is going to start again tomorrow."

The aftermath of the quake is expected to seriously impact the region's economy, which is based on tourism, agriculture and family-run businesses.

Evelina Cruciani handed out freshly-made sandwiches from her family's bakery to aid and rescue workers for free. She also sold sweet bread with salami, a local treat traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday.

"We need to keep tradition alive," Cruciani said. "L'Aquila must not die."

With files from the Associated Press