Italy honours 37 Amatrice earthquake victims at state funeral

Construction crews worked through the night to build a tent complex to host an Italian state funeral in quake-devastated Amatrice after residents rejected the government's plan to hold the service in a distant airport hangar.

Amatrices priest Father Savino with a santon of the Madonna of Filetta from the SantAgostino church. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The evening Mass for 37 of the 292 people killed is the second state funeral for victims of the 24 August quake that flattened three towns in central Italy. The first, held last Saturday, honoured victims from the Le Marche region. Yesterday’s funeral was for the victims of neighbouring Lazio, which includes Amatrice.

The service took place on the edge of Amatrice’s obliterated medieval town centre on the grounds of a Catholic retreat. It comes as Italy observed a second day of national mourning, with flags on public buildings flying at half-mast.

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Initially, authorities planned to hold the funeral in the provincial capital of Rieti, 65km (40 miles) away, citing safety and organisational concerns. The quake area has seen more than 2,500 aftershocks and faces logistical problems in bringing relatives and government officials into a town with only one serviceable access road. But residents rebelled at plans to let them watch it on TV or be bussed to Rieti. Sensing a PR disaster, Premier Matteo Renzi scrapped the plan late on Monday and announced the funeral would be held in Amatrice.

Early yesterday, bulldozers and steamrollers prepared the grounds for the service while a huge, open-sided tented roof was erected to shelter the altar and seating area.

Civil protection officials said 37 caskets would be on hand; many families have already claimed loved ones and held private funerals for them elsewhere. So far, 231 quake victims have been found in Amatrice and 11 more in nearby Accumoli. The bodies of as many as ten people are believed to still be buried in the rubble.

Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos was travelling to Amatrice to participate in the state funeral and comfort Romanian survivors, since 11 of the dead were Romanians. Some 8,000 to 10,000 Romanians live in the quake zone.