PESCARA DEL TRONTO (Italy) • Seventeen hours after a devastating earthquake slammed Italy's heartland, rescuers searching through mountains of rubble pulled out a 10-year old girl, offering a dramatic moment of hope.
Video images from the hard-hit town of Pescara del Tronto showed anxious rescuers hearing the girl and finding her moving foot before staging a frantic dig.
"Come on Giulia, come on Giulia," one rescuer called out, reassuring the girl. A round of applause broke out as they pulled her out from under a beam and piles of rocks.
After toiling through the night, an army of 5,000 first responders and volunteers combed through mounds of rubble in a desperate search for new survivors yesterday, following the earthquake on Wednesday morning that may yet become Italy's deadliest in decades.
An aftershock of magnitude 4.7 again rocked the hard-hit zone before dawn, as the death toll rose to at least 247.
Officials are worried that the final death toll may surpass the roughly 300 people killed in the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake. That would make this Italy's worst quake since a severe one in the south claimed thousands of lives in 1980.
S'pore leaders offer condolences
President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have written to Italy's President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi respectively to offer their condolences over the earthquake, according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In his letter to Mr Mattarella, Dr Tan said he was "deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life and widespread destruction".
He wrote: "On behalf of the people of Singapore, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families of those who perished in the disaster. I wish for the speedy recovery of those who were injured."
In his letter to Mr Renzi, Mr Lee said he "was saddened" to learn of the earthquake.
"On behalf of the Government and people of Singapore, I would like to convey my deepest sympathies to the bereaved families and those affected by the disaster. Our thoughts are with the people of Italy during this time," he wrote.
The main earthquake, measured by the US Geological Survey at magnitude 6.2 and a shallow 10km below ground, struck at 3.36am on Wednesday. In fact, the bell tower clock in the levelled town of Amatrice was stuck at 3.36am.
The impacted zone stretched across the regions of Lazio, Umbria and the Marches. A string of strong aftershocks continued to hit the affected zone, and the damage was far-flung, with some of the worst devastation in Lazio.
Like other villages and towns in the mountainous area, it has stone churches and other buildings that were constructed centuries ago, when little, if anything, was known about earthquakes. Unless they have been reinforced in recent years, such structures are easily damaged or destroyed by shaking, especially with such a shallow quake.
"Even 100 years ago, they didn't know how to build structures to withstand earthquakes," said professor of planetary geosciences David Rothery of the Open University in Milton Keynes, England.
"Shallow earthquakes cause more destruction than deep earthquakes because the shallowness of the source makes the ground-shaking at the surface worse," he said.
In Accumoli, another hard-hit town in Lazio, Mayor Stefano Petrucci said there was extensive damage and casualties. He told an Italian news outlet: "Four people are under the rubble, but they are not showing any sign of life; two parents and two children."
This weekend, Amatrice was to host the 50th annual Spaghetti Amatriciana Festival - a celebration of its famous tomato-and-pork-jowl pasta dish scheduled for the town square. That square is now a pile of rubble, and Amatrice is counting its dead.
The 15th-century main gate to the town - which resisted invasions and past earthquakes - crumbled. Two cathedrals from the 14th and 15th centuries collapsed.
"We were used to earthquakes, but now the town is no more," said Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi. "We will keep on digging. Hope is the last to go."
THE WASHINGTON POST, NEW YORK TIMES