L'AQUILA, Italy-Desperate for help in digging out his 60-year-old mother from under a heap of mangled metal and concrete, Tancredi Vicentini ran after local firemen down a rubble-strewn street in L'Aquila pleading for help.A few firemen clambered up on top of the rubble and began picking up pieces with their hands, but the digging ended as abruptly as it started."Those in there are dead for sure," one fireman said before moving on to another crumbling house nearby, Vicentini said."They left saying they had worse things to attend to," said the 33-year-old, one of several locals left staring helplessly at the little left of their houses and relatives trapped inside."They said they needed bulldozers, and it would have been dangerous to dig in these conditions."Vicentini himself is lucky to be alive. When the 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit L'Aquila just after 3:32 am (10:30 p.m. EST), he and his girlfriend escaped from their once pretty cream-colored house by jumping out of the window.They tried to reach his mother sleeping in a nearby room, but falling pieces of the apartment above blocked their way."It all happened so quickly, there was so much dust in the air and you could barely breathe or see anything," he said, his trousers marked with bloodstains and his hands bruised.Earlier in the morning, with firemen and police rushing to free students trapped inside a university residence and others buried under the rubble of large buildings, some residents used ladders to peek into the windows of tiny houses in narrow streets where the elderly or children may have been trapped.Near the town square, a handful of police and firemen spent an anguished half hour trying to discover whether the plaintive cries of what appeared to be a baby came from a yellow building showing a giant crack, or from an adjacent set of houses.The cries were eventually traced to a trapped woman and firemen were hoisted in to rescue her.A few blocks away on a street strewn with fallen brick, glass and shards of metal, 32-year old Marina Costantini huddled under blankets with relatives as firemen climbed into a house searching for her aunt trapped inside."I don't think there's any hope for her now, she didn't come out when we all did and we haven't seen or heard from her since," Costantini said, recounting how parts of her bedroom ceiling collapsed as she frantically rushed out after the quake.Further down the road, Camillo Berardi watched as firemen and police painstakingly sifted through pieces of a four-storey building that had been reduced to rubble, with its red roof sloping down over the heap at an angle.Berardi had come down to look for help after running up to his father's house to find the interiors had caved in and no sign of his father anywhere."My father is surely dead," he said.Another woman watching rescuers wailed that her sister was inside the ruins of the collapsed building, her cries growing louder when the sole survivor pulled out feet-first from the rubble was not her sister.As repeated aftershocks hampered firefighters' efforts, she cried out:"Enough, God! Enough! Enough of these earthquakes!"
By Deepa Babington
As in the days of Noah...