AMATRICE, Italy — Strong aftershocks continued to strike central Italy on Friday, as rescue crews began to lose hope of finding additional survivors two days after a deadly earthquake that killed more than 280 people.
In the devastated town of Amatrice, reduced to rubble and ruins by the magnitude-6.2 earthquake, an aftershock of magnitude 4.7 struck Friday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
This came after more than 50 smaller aftershocks rocked Italy’s Apennine Mountains region throughout Thursday night. More than 1,000 aftershocks have shaken the area since the earthquake struck early Wednesday.
The overall death toll rose Friday to 281, the Italian Civil Protection Department said.
The tremors damaged two key bridges bearing roads into Amatrice, threatening to cut off the centuries-old hilltop town from much-needed assistance, Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told reporters.
“With the aftershocks yesterday but especially this morning, the situation has worsened considerably,” Pirozzi said. “So in terms of the emergency, we have to make sure Amatrice does not become isolated.”
He vowed that the town would be rebuilt “here, with the same looks, the same face” — just the way it was designed in the 16th century.
Meanwhile, ambulances were carrying the recovered bodies of quake victims to an airport hangar in the provincial capital Rieti, the Associated Press reported. There, four large refrigerated trucks were being used as a makeshift morgue, where relatives arrived in a steady stream Friday to identify loved ones.
“In this phase, [rescue workers] are looking for corpses,” said Egidio Pelagatti, 60, the national operations manager for the public assistance organization known as ANPAS Lazio. Speaking at a small tent encampment for people displaced by the quake, he described the vacant stares of survivors and their fears of having to move away from their ancestral town.
“They all have the same gaze,” Pelagatti said. In a town that lost at least 221 of its roughly 2,600 inhabitants, many of them related, the earthquake exacted a disproportionate toll here. “The whole community has been struck,” he said.
Now, people are “very scared of being transferred and of no longer being able to come back here,” Pelagatti said. “People are afraid of ending up living in a ghetto.”
As thousands of surviving residents from the affected towns — notably Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto — stayed in tents and makeshift camps near their ruined homes, the first of many forthcoming funerals took place Friday.
Among those planned was a memorial service in Rome for Marco Santarelli, 28, the son of an Italian state official who was vacationing with friends in his family’s Amatrice home.
“I cannot find the words to describe the grief of a father who outlives his own children,” his father, Filippo Santarelli, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “Perhaps there are no words.”
The Italian government declared Saturday a day of national mourning and scheduled a state funeral to be attended by President Sergio Mattarella.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi proclaimed a state of emergency and authorized $56 million for immediate quake relief.
The Civil Protection Department insisted Friday morning that it would not give up its search. “I confirm once again, as we have from the start, that the units that are doing the searches and rescues, including with dogs looking for other people trapped in the rubble, are absolutely fully active,” the department’s Immacolata Postiglione told reporters.
Approximately 400 victims are being treated in hospitals, 40 of them in critical condition, the department said.
At least 238 people have been pulled alive from the rubble.
But given that two days have passed since the rescue of the last buried person, rescue workers conceded that they are unlikely to find more people alive under the debris.
McAuley reported from Paris. William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.