Italy Probes to See if Criminal Negligence Raised Quake Toll

AMATRICE, Italy (AP) -
Firefighters work outside the Hotel Roma in Amatrice, central Italy, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016 where a 6.1 earthquake struck just after 3:30 a.m., Wednesday. As Italians observed a day of national mourning, President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Matteo Renzi joined grieving family members for a state funeral for some of the victims of Wednesday's quake. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Firefighters work outside the Hotel Roma in Amatrice, central Italy, Aug. 27. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

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 ($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.

The 6.2-magnitude quake flattened three medieval towns in central Italy, destroying not only private homes but also 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 museums in a sign of solidarity with people affected by the earthquake.”

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 the destruction with 230 fatalities and a town turned to rubble. Eleven others died in nearby Accumoli and 50 more in Arquata del Tronto, 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.

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 and was shown the extent of the damage in Amatrice by its mayor, Sergio Pirozzi. The president thanked rescue workers who have been working around the clock.

On Tuesday, a memorial service will be held for the dead of Amatrice on the battered town’s outskirts.

Hundreds of people have been left homeless by the quake, with many spending their nights in tent cities and a gym in Amatrice, where volunteers are working to provide basic services. Longer-term housing for earthquake survivors will be another key issue that Italian authorities need to address.