As the search for survivors ground on, Premier Matteo Renzi pledged new money and measures Thursday to rebuild quake-devastated central Italy amid mounting soul-searching over why the seismic-prone country has continually failed to ensure its buildings can withstand such catastrophes.
The death toll from a devastating earthquake in central Italy climbed to 250 on Thursday as rescue teams scoured mounds of rubble for a second day in towns and villages flattened by the natural disaster.
The 6.2 magnitude quake struck a cluster of mountain communities 140 km (85 miles) east of Rome early on Wednesday as people slept, destroying hundreds of homes.
Dozens of emergency workers with sniffer dogs clambered over piles of debris trying to find anyone still trapped, while cranes removed huge slabs of fallen masonry and trucks full of rubble left the area every few minutes.
"People like myself have lost everything, but at the same time the fact that we have survived means we have to move forward one minute at a time," said Alessandra Cioni, 45, who managed to edge out of her crumpled house after the quake.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi committed to recreate the crushed shelters and said he would repair hard work to support Italy's flimsy defenses beside earthquakes that frequently batter the country.
"We want those communities to have the chance of a future and not just memories," he told reporters in Rome.
A violent aftershock on Thursday afternoon sent rescuers fleeing as stones fell from the already severely damaged bell tower of the 15th century church of St. Augustine in Amatrice.
The jolt, which struck fear and panic in survivors, detached the church's facade, leaving it leaning dangerously over the main street where the emergency services were working under blue skies and a hot summer sun.
The number of missing in Amatrice remained unclear on Thursday, as local residents wondered aloud about tourists and seasonal workers, mostly from Romania, who arrive during the busy summer months. Romanian officials confirmed that five of their citizens had died in the quake, that four had been injured and that 11 others were missing. Two Spaniards also died, Italian officials said.
Speaking from Rome, Immacolata Postiglione, who runs the emergency unit at the Civil Protection Department, said that 215 people had been rescued from the wreckage of the earthquake. At least 264 people had been hospitalized, the Health Ministry said.
In Saletta, another town damaged by the quake, Adriana Ciocchetti, a homemaker and a grandmother from Pagliano, near Frosinone, said she had not known what to expect when she arrived as a volunteer for the Italian Red Cross. “In cases like this, you just go,” Ms. Ciocchetti said.
But the work was heartbreaking, she said. One woman she comforted on Wednesday had lost her family. “I was looking at a crushed house and said out loud, ‘I hope no one lived there,’ and a woman turned and said, ‘That’s where my daughter and grandchildren lived,’” Ms. Ciocchetti said.
“People are so disoriented that many don’t even really realize what’s happened.”
The Italian Red Cross was one of the first organizations to arrive in Amatrice. “Within two hours of the quake we were ready to move,” said Ignazio Schintu, the organization’s emergency manager. By Wednesday evening, the Red Cross — with about 400 workers and volunteers — had set up medical services, emergency kitchens, washroom facilities and tents.