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Quake survivors erupt in anger at funeral plan

Associated Press

Rome — Italian quake survivors rebelled in anger Monday over the government’s plan to hold a state funeral for their loved ones in an airport hangar in a distant town and let them watch it on screens in their emergency tent camp.

One relative of 7-year-old twins who perished in central Italy’s Aug. 24 quake was so upset by the announcement he could barely speak, holding up seven fingers when explaining how old the children were. The mayor of Amatrice, the hardest-hit of the three medieval towns flattened by the quake, was also upset.

Sensing a public relations disaster, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi’s government quickly reversed course, and he said the latest state funeral will take place Tuesday in the devastated Apennines hill town.

So far, 231 of the quake’s 292 victims have been found in Amatrice, with the death toll rising by two Monday afternoon when two bodies were extracted from rubble.

The bodies of some 10 people, including that of the town’s baker, are believed to be still buried under the rubble of hundreds of buildings that collapsed, many reduced to piles of stones. Hundreds of people were injured.

Last week, a stream of ambulances brought more than 100 victims in body bags from Amatrice and another hard-hit town, Accumoli, to the airport at Rieti, 40 miles away. There they were being kept in refrigerated big-rig trucks parked in the hangar. Some relatives who live elsewhere in Italy had sent hearses with coffins to claim their loved one’s body for funerals elsewhere.

But nearly 80 bodies that families hoped would be buried near Amatrice or Accumoli remained at the hangar, and now, after the government relented, the corpses were going to be transferred back to the town.

Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told a crowd that Renzi had just spoken with him by phone. “He granted the people’s appeal,” the mayor said.

Almost simultaneously, Renzi tweeted: “The funeral of the victims of the earthquake will be held at Amatrice as the mayor and local community have asked. And right that it is so!”

Just where space would be found in Amatrice for dozens of coffins and hundreds of mourners wasn’t clear. At the edge of the virtually obliterated historic town center, a Catholic home for the elderly has sprawling grounds, but the building has been serving has a makeshift morgue, with about 10 corpses still inside awaiting official identification.

A separate state funeral, for 35 victims from other towns, was held Saturday in Ascoli Piceno, a town unscathed by the quake. Renzi, as well as Italy’s president and other officials, attended that funeral.

Survivors are also stressed over where they will stay when chilly autumn arrives soon in Amatrice, a town that lies 3,300 feet above sea level. Summer evenings require jackets there, and snow can come as early as October.

With thousands left homeless after the earthquake, authorities are debating how to provide warmer, sturdier housing for them besides the rows of emergency blue tents.

Nearly 2,700 quake survivors needing shelter have been staying in 58 tent camps or at other shelters arranged by Italy’s Civil Protection agency. Others are sleeping on a basketball court in Amatrice’s gym or sleeping in cars near their damaged homes. Those who could have fled to relatives’ homes far from the quake-stricken region.

Italy’s lobbying group for farmers, Coldiretti, said Monday that farm animals, most of them sheep and cows, also need warm shelters at night, since 90 percent of the stalls and barns in the Amatrice area have been damaged.

Italian architect Renzo Piano, who met with Renzi on Sunday, has proposed building temporary wooden homes near the three devastated towns in central Italy so that traumatized people could stay near their roots.

No long-term housing decisions have been announced yet.