Italian quake death toll rises to 241, anguish mounts

A rescued woman is carried away on a stretcher following an earthquake in Amatrice Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)

AMATRICE, Italy (AP) — Rescue crews aided by sniffer dogs dug through crumbled homes Thursday looking for earthquake survivors as Italy again anguished over how to secure its ancient towns and modern cities from the country’s highly seismic terrain.

After a night of uninterrupted, flood-lit search efforts, firefighters and rescue crews worked in teams around the hard-hit area in central Italy, pulling chunks of cement, rock and metal from mounds of rubble where homes once stood, searching for signs of life.

Authorities say at least 241 people were killed and hundreds injured in the quake that struck at 3:36 a.m. Wednesday. At least 470 aftershocks have since rattled the area — one as strong as magnitude 5.1.

One rescue effort focused on the Hotel Roma in Amatrice, famous for the Amatriciana bacon and tomato pasta sauce that brings food lovers to this medieval hilltop town each August for its food festival.

Amatrice’s mayor had initially said 70 guests were in the crumbled hotel ahead of this weekend’s festival, but rescue workers later halved that estimate and the owner said most guests had managed to escape.

Rescuers search for survivors in Italy quake that killed more than 150

Firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari said one body had been pulled out of the hotel rubble just before dawn after five were extracted earlier but searches continued there and elsewhere.

“We’re still in a phase that allows us to hope we’ll find people alive,” Cari said, noting that in the 2009 earthquake in nearby L’Aquila, one survivor was pulled out after 72 hours.

Rescuers refused to say when their work would shift from saving lives to recovering bodies.

This aerial photo shows the historical part of the town of Amatrice, central Italy, after an earthquake, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
This aerial photo shows the historical part of the town of Amatrice, central Italy, after an earthquake, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

“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, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometers (15 miles) further to the east.

Italy’s civil protection agency reported the death toll had risen to 241 early Thursday with at least 264 others hospitalized. Most of the dead — 184 — were in Amatrice. Authorities revised downward an earlier figure of 247 after one of the affected areas corrected its toll.

A Spaniard and five Romanians were among the dead, according to their governments.

There is no clear estimate of the missing since the area was flooded with summer vacationers. The Romanian government alone said 11 of its citizens were missing.

Emergency services set up tent cities around the quake-devastated towns to accommodate the homeless, housing about 1,200 people overnight. In Amatrice, 50 elderly people and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.

“It’s not easy for them,” said civil protection volunteer Tiziano De Carolis, who was helping to care for about 350 homeless in Amatrice. “They have lost everything: the work of an entire life, like those who have a business, a shop, a pharmacy, a grocery store. From one day to another, they discovered everything they had was destroyed.”

As the search effort continued, the soul-searching began as Italy once again confronted the responsibilities that come with having the highest seismic hazard in Western Europe. At the same time, the country has countless picturesque medieval villages but its anti-seismic building codes aren’t applied to old buildings and often aren’t respected when new ones are built.

“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, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometers (15 miles) further to the east.

Italy’s civil protection agency reported the death toll had risen to 241 early Thursday with at least 264 others hospitalized. Most of the dead — 184 — were in Amatrice. Authorities revised downward an earlier figure of 247 after one of the affected areas corrected its toll.

A Spaniard and five Romanians were among the dead, according to their governments.

There is no clear estimate of the missing since the area was flooded with summer vacationers. The Romanian government alone said 11 of its citizens were missing.

Emergency services set up tent cities around the quake-devastated towns to accommodate the homeless, housing about 1,200 people overnight. In Amatrice, 50 elderly people and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.

“It’s not easy for them,” said civil protection volunteer Tiziano De Carolis, who was helping to care for about 350 homeless in Amatrice. “They have lost everything: the work of an entire life, like those who have a business, a shop, a pharmacy, a grocery store. From one day to another, they discovered everything they had was destroyed.”

As the search effort continued, the soul-searching began as Italy once again confronted the responsibilities that come with having the highest seismic hazard in Western Europe. At the same time, the country has countless picturesque medieval villages but its anti-seismic building codes aren’t applied to old buildings and often aren’t respected when new ones are built.

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Nicole Winfield reported from Rome. Trisha Thomas in Pescara del Tronto contributed to this report.

A body is carried away as a car is covered in rubble after an earthquake, in Amatrice, central Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. A devastating earthquake rocked central Italy early Wednesday, collapsing homes on top of residents as they slept. At least 23 people were reported dead in three hard-hit towns where rescue crews raced to dig survivors out of the rubble, but the toll was expected to rise as crews reached homes in more remote hamlets. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
A body is carried away as a car is covered in rubble after an earthquake, in Amatrice, central Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. A devastating earthquake rocked central Italy early Wednesday, collapsing homes on top of residents as they slept. At least 23 people were reported dead in three hard-hit towns where rescue crews raced to dig survivors out of the rubble, but the toll was expected to rise as crews reached homes in more remote hamlets. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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