Amatrice – Italian civil protection agency informed Thursday that the death toll in the magnitude-6.2 earthquake that hit villages in the center of the country rose to 241. The picturesque medieval town of Amatrice was hit the most by the disaster that occurred Wednesday at around 3:30 a.m. local time, leaving at least 264 people hospitalized.

Residents in Amatrice were prepared to host the annual spaghetti festival set for this weekend to celebrate the town’s special bacon and its traditional all’amatriciana tomato pasta sauce, as well as the chili and pecorino recipe. Many visitors were expected in the town of around 3,000 people. The quake killed 184.

Luca Cari, firefighters’ spokesman, said six bodies had been pulled out of the hotel before dawn. Image Credit: Time

Authorities mounted a rescue operation at the Hotel Roma, where the festival was scheduled. The mayor had originally declared that 70 guests were in the collapsed hotel, but the estimate was later cut in half by rescue workers after learning from the owner that most guests had escaped.

Chefs’ efforts to help those affected

The festival might not be held this year, but Amatrice’s signature dish is still being celebrated. Chefs from around the world are helping raise money for the earthquake victims by offering the spaghetti all’Amatriciana, which includes pork jowl, olive oil, white wine, chili, and pecorino cheese.

Invented in Amatrice in the 1700s, the pasta dish is available on the menus of more than 600 restaurants and donate €2 from each sale will be donated to the Italian Red Cross. Paul Bell, a Rome blogger who is working in the campaign, told CNN that the whole thing simply came from the desire to help people affected by the devastating earthquake.

Rescue workers believe they can still find survivors

Isolated hilltop communities of Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto were also hit by the quake and 470 aftershocks have been recorded since the initial jolt, as reported by the Italian news agency ANSA. Those aftershocks make the rescue task even more difficult in the old stone villas and the rescuers, including foreign search crews, are working through them.

Search efforts there include sniffer dogs, paramedics, and firefighter looking for survivors feared trapped under rubble from collapsed homes and buildings. About 5,400 rescuers are using heavy lifting equipment while people try to help with tractors, farm equipment, and sometimes simple hand tools or even their bare hands in desperate attempts to find victims who may be still alive. Crews are also relying on sound detectors.

“Many cases have shown in the past that even after two days, people can be rescued alive,” noted Luigi D’Angelo from Italy’s Civil Protection Department, as reported by CNN. “So we want to continue.”

CNN correspondent Frederik Pleitgen said rescue workers are well aware of the fact that they are running out of time and that they believe those people would be able to survive after 72 hours. However, in most cases, they are only able to retrieve their bodies, which explains why the see the death toll rising wildly overnight.

One of the few happy stories is about a 10-year-old girl named Georgia, who had been trapped beneath the ruins for 17 hours before rescue crews found her in Pescara del Tronto. They suddenly heard what appeared to be the cries of a survivor and once they identified the source of the sound a firefighter clawed at the debris as he was trying to reach her.

Onlookers applauded in support when they the girl’s living body emerged. Workers gently pulled her out and a witness joyously cried “She’s alive!” according to a report by CNN. But the rescuers learned shortly after that Georgia’s sister could not make it. They found her body lying next to the 10-year-old girl.

Search-and-rescue teams survey the rubble in Amatrice, Italy, following a magnitude 6.2 earthquake. Image Credit: Massimo Percossi/EPA

Reconstruction of old age towns

Italy’s civil protection agency estimated the damage to be about $11 billion. Italian Prime Minister, who visited the devastated area on Wednesday, vowed to rebuild and guarantee the reconstruction of the affected region so residents could be able to live in those communities and “relaunch these beautiful towns that have a wonderful past that will never end,” as USA Today reported.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini urged Italians in a statement issued Thursday to massively visit museums and the country’s many archaeological sites on Sunday as an act of solidarity with the quake victims given that proceeds from museums across Italy that day will be dedicated to helping reconstruct historical buildings destroyed by the disaster, according to the Associated Press. Many of the structures affected were churches and other medieval-era buildings.

No residents were allowed to spend the night in Amatrice on Wednesday night and over 1,000 people have been displaced, CNN reported.

Home rental website AirBnB is offering a free service for people affected, giving the options to either find a place to stay or offer their place for free. Other individuals on Facebook have offered up their homes at no cost.

RAI-TV reported that an investigation has been opened in Rieti into possible culpable negligence that may have led to the collapse of a school in Amatrice and a bell tower in Accumoli, which have been restored recently.

“They’ve told us for years we should make our houses anti-seismic,” commented 69-year-old Gloria Nardo of Amatrice, as reported by USA Today. “But how do you retrofit a brick house built in 1750? It’s almost all gone now.”

People in Saletta have only seen bodies being pulled out, according to CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau. The town of just two homes is located less than a mile from the quake’s epicenter and 22 people were killed there.

Source: CNN