The death toll in the Italian earthquake has risen to 250 as rescuers continue efforts to find survivors.
Hundreds of aftershocks have rocked devastated areas of central Italy, hampering search efforts in the cluster of mountain communities 65 miles north-east of Rome hit.
The earth continues to tremble under their feet from aftershocks, hundreds of which have struck since the quake. Two registered 5.1 and 5.4, just before dawn yesterday.
And yesterday afternoon a violent aftershock measuring magnitude 4.3 sent rescuers fleeing from debris and stones that fell from the severely damaged bell tower of the 15th century church of St. Augustine in Amatrice.
The aftershock, which struck fear and panic in survivors, detached the church’s facade, leaving it dangerously unstable over the main street where rescuers are working.
The heaviest death tollwas in Amatrice – 184. Another 46 died in Arquata, and 11 in Accumoli. A further 264 have been treated in hospital.
The chances of finding people alive in these conditions, in this type of setting, well, it’s challenging. We need to hope and we need to believeLorenzo Botti
Many of the victims were children, the health minister said. Among the victims was an 18-month-old toddler, Marisol Piermarini, whose mother Martina Turco survived the deadly 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila and moved away after the experience, Italian news agency Ansa said.
Officials also told how many of those affected were Italians on holiday, with many in Amatrice for a food festival.
Foreign nationals are among those believed to have been killed or caught up in the quake. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said “a number of British nationals have been affected” but refused to say how or how many although reports put the number of dead at three.
More than 4,300 rescue workers are combing through rubble for survivors using heavy machinery or bare hands following Wednesday’s 6.2 magnitude quake as they continue to search under the rubble of flattened towns.
They have already told how they expect to find more victims as they dig further through the piles of rubble. The worst-affected towns have been swelled by tourists visiting for summer, making estimates for the precise number missing difficult, officials say.
Lorenzo Botti, an official from the region’s fire department, admitted they were facing a race against time.
He said: “The chances of finding people alive in these conditions, in this type of setting, well, it’s challenging.
“We need to hope and we need to work and we need to believe there’s someone out there alive who we can save.”
Many people in the area have been forced to sleep in cars or tents after being left homeless by the quake.