Aftershocks in central Italy rattled residents and rescue workers alike Thursday, as crews worked to find more earthquake survivors and the country anguished over its repeated failure to protect ancient towns and modern cities from seismic catastrophes.
A day after a shallow quake killed 250 people and leveled three small towns, a 4.3 magnitude aftershock sent up plumes of thick gray dust in the hard-hit town of Amatrice. The aftershock crumbled already cracked buildings, prompted authorities to close roads and sent another person to the hospital.
It was only one of the more than 470 temblors that have followed Wednesday’s pre-dawn quake.
Firefighters and rescue crews using sniffer dogs worked in teams around the hard-hit areas in central Italy, pulling chunks of cement, rock and metal from mounds of rubble where homes once stood. Rescuers refused to say when their work would shift from saving lives to recovering bodies, noting that one person was pulled alive from the rubble 72 hours after the 2009 quake in the Italian town of L’Aquila.
“We will work relentlessly until the last person is found, and make sure no one is trapped,” said Lorenzo Botti, a rescue team spokesman.
Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 60 miles northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 15 miles further to the east.
Many were left homeless by the scale of the destruction, their homes and apartments declared uninhabitable. Some survivors, escorted by firefighters were allowed to go back inside homes briefly Thursday to get essential necessities for what will surely be an extended absence.
“Last night we slept in the car. Tonight, I don’t know,” said Nello Caffini as he carried his sister-in-law’s belongings on his head after being allowed to go quickly into her home in Pescara del Tronto.
Caffini has a house in nearby Ascoli, but said his sister-in-law was too terrified by the aftershocks to go inside it.
“When she is more tranquil, we will go to Ascoli,” he said.
Charitable assistance began pouring into the earthquake zone in traffic-clogging droves Thursday. Church groups from a variety of denominations, along with farmers offering donated peaches, pumpkins and plums, sent vans along the one-way road into Amatrice that was already packed with emergency vehicles and trucks carrying sniffer dogs.
Italy’s civil protection agency said the death toll had risen to 250 Thursday afternoon with at least 365 others hospitalized. Most of the dead — 184 — were in Amatrice. A Spaniard and five Romanians were among the dead, according to their governments.
There was no clear estimate of the missing, since the rustic area was packed with summer vacationers before a popular Italian food festival this weekend. The Romanian government alone said 11 of its citizens were missing.