Earthquake-rattled Italians begin to bury their dead

Pope allows special Mass for 272 killed

ALESSANDRO GAROFALO/REUTERSAcross Italy, relatives grieved and began to bury the 272 people killed in the earthquake on Monday. The Pope granted a dispensation so a funeral Mass could be celebrated on Good Friday. ALESSANDRO GAROFALO/REUTERSAcross Italy, relatives grieved and began to bury the 272 people killed in the earthquake on Monday. The Pope granted a dispensation so a funeral Mass could be celebrated on Good Friday. (ALESSANDRO GAROFALO/REUTERS)
By Vanessa Gera
Associated Press / April 9, 2009
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L'AQUILA, Italy - Bells tolled in hilltowns across central Italy yesterday as the first funerals got underway for victims of the country's devastating earthquake. The Vatican granted a dispensation so a funeral Mass for most of the 272 dead could be celebrated on Good Friday.

As more bodies were pulled from the rubble, some of the 28,000 homeless spent another day lining up for food and water at some of the 20 tent camps that have sprouted up around this quake-devastated city.

Pope Benedict XVI said he would visit the area soon.

Rescue efforts continued for the 15 people still missing, but officials began discussing rebuilding the stricken region and reopening schools. They stressed it would take a month or two to have a clear idea of the extent of the damage.

"For now the needs are basic. The people in the camps, they don't have toothbrushes, they don't have toothpaste," said Massimo Cialente, mayor of the hard-hit city of L'Aquila. "You can't find a place to buy cigarettes or get a coffee."

The magnitude-6.3 quake hit L'Aquila and several towns covering 230 square miles in central Italy early Monday, leveling buildings and reducing entire blocks to piles of rubble. It was the worst quake to hit Italy in three decades.

Six of the dead hadn't been identified, the ANSA news agency reported, citing police reports. Sixteen of the dead were children, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.

Of the injured, 100 remained in serious condition, he said.

One 98-year-old survivor, rescued by firemen in the hamlet of Tempera 30 hours after quake, said in an interview on the Italia Uno TV network that while she lay in her bed, surrounded by pieces of fallen plaster, she passed the time by crocheting.

Maria D'Antuono said that when firefighters arrived to help her out of her home, she ate some crackers, then told her rescuers, "At least let me comb my hair" before she was brought outside.

Two people were arrested for looting in the nearly leveled town of Onna yesterday, the ANSA news agency said, citing police. They had an estimated $105,000 worth of merchandise.

Berlusconi said looting in the quake zone was on the rise and that the government was considering an increase in penalties. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters that anti-looting police patrols would also be stepped up.

Pop star Madonna pledged $500,000 in quake relief, said Fernando Caparso, the mayor of Pacentro, the mountainside village where two of the pop star's grandparents were born.

Yesterday, the first funerals got underway, including for Giuseppe Chiavaroli, 24, a football player for Fiorentina's lower-division team who was killed along with his girlfriend.

As church bells tolled and onlookers applauded in the typical Italian gesture of mourning, players from his team carried his casket, his sky-blue soccer jersey draped on top.

"We will try to be strong," his father, Tomasso Ciavaroli, said.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a top Vatican official, plans to celebrate a funeral Mass for most of the victims tomorrow, Vatican officials said.

The Vatican granted a special dispensation for the Mass to be celebrated since Good Friday, which marks Jesus' death by crucifixion, is the only day in the year in which Mass in not celebrated in the Catholic church.

The Vatican said Benedict would visit the affected area sometime after Easter Sunday and that he does not want to interfere with relief operations. The pope praised the aid operations as an example of how solidarity can help overcome "even the most painful trials."

"As soon as possible I hope to visit you," Benedict said yesterday at the Vatican.

Of the 28,000 people homeless, 17,700 were living in tent cities, spending much of their time in line - waiting for food and to use the bathrooms. They spent a second night in chilly mountain temperatures, sometimes without heat in their tents and being jolted by aftershocks.