Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Berlusconi pledges to re-house victims as quake toll hits 207

L'AQUILA, Italy-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday pledged to build a new town to house the thousands of people left homeless by Monday's deadly earthquake in the country's Abruzzo region.Berlusconi told a news conference that the death toll from Italy's worst quake in decades had climbed to 207, as rescuers continued to pull bodies from the rubble in the medieval city of L'Aquila, about 120 km (75 miles) northeast of Rome.Fifteen people remain missing, Berlusconi added.Doctors were also tending to an estimated 1,500 injured residents at two field hospitals, after the main hospital had been hit by the 6.3-magnitude quake.Officials urged residents to keep away from their homes as aftershocks continued. Thousands have sought shelter in tents. Others slept in cars or relatives' homes.Many survivors stood watch, gripping one another, as they watched rescuers feverishly comb through the remains of crumbled buildings.With thousands of people forced from their homes in the area, the Italian premier announced that a special fund would be set up to help victims rebuild their lives."The government has a task to be close to all those citizens who have found themselves in a very difficult situation due to the earthquake, the disaster, and of course also due to the financial crisis," Berlusconi told reporters.Citizens can book a place in the new town, Berlusconi said. A study is "well under way" into plans for the town, he said.The government will provide funds but private individuals will also have to contribute, he said. The government will set up a special fund in banks to allow for low-cost mortgages for homebuyers in the new town, he said."It will be very important, and we will collect together all the necessary money and funds as soon as possible to rebuild, once we overcome any bureaucratic paperwork and issues," Berlusconi said. "Building will be carried out as soon as possible-fast."Meanwhile, 4,000 people were working on the rescue effort Tuesday. Civil defense officials said they are prepared to house up to 30,000 people, but many of those displaced have gone to hotels.Monday's earthquake was about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) deep, the U.S. Geological Survey said.About 10:20 p.m. (8:20 p.m. GMT) Sunday, a 4.6-magnitude earthquake hit northern Italy, about 55 km (35 miles) southeast of Bologna, the agency said. That earthquake's depth was 6.4 km (4 miles). The quake is the deadliest to strike Italy in decades, and the first major temblor to strike the country in almost seven years. Joshua Brothers, an American missionary, told CNN that the quake "sounded as if a 747 (jet) was actually coming in to land.""That was the first thing that was on my mind," he said.The quake left stone buildings in heaps, with rubble spilling over parked cars and into alleyways. Frightened residents rushed into the streets, many of them bringing luggage with them, Brothers said."If you look along the way, there are many palazzi that are cracked, walls have fallen in on some of them," he said.L'Aquila's hospital was damaged as well, forcing doctors to evacuate the most seriously hurt. Agostino Miozzo, the director-general of Italy's Civil Protection agency, called it "a disaster on a huge scale."
As in the days of Noah....

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