Race to save lives under the rubble

Italian rescue teams work through the night seeking earthquake survivors under the rubble as the death toll climbs to 159.
Aerial video shows the central Italian town of Amatrice in ruins following a powerful earthquake that killed at least 73 people in the region and left thousands homeless.
The scene after the earthquake in Arquata del Tronto, central Italy. In some of the deserted shells of what were once family homes, phones rang off the hook. The quake was felt across a broad section of central Italy, in the Umbria, Lazio and Marche
The scene after the earthquake in Arquata del Tronto, central Italy. In some of the deserted shells of what were once family homes, phones rang off the hook. The quake was felt across a broad section of central Italy, in the Umbria, Lazio and Marche regions, and in Rome, where people felt prolonged swaying followed by aftershocks.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Sniffer dogs search for survivors as army excavators struggle to reach villages

ITALY • Sitting with his brother on a bench in Illica, one of the Italian mountain villages devastated by a powerful earthquake yesterday, Mr Guido Bordo clasped and unclasped his hands repeatedly.

The gesture spoke volumes about the anguish engulfing the 69- year-old.

"My sister and her husband are under the rubble; we are waiting for diggers, but they can't get up here," he explained.

"There is no sound from them, we only heard their cats. I wasn't here, but as soon as the quake happened, I rushed here. They managed to pull my sister's children out, they are in hospital now."

Mr Bordo and his brother Domenico were among around 30 people sitting in a field on the outskirts of Illica. Their sister and her husband, who were on holiday from Rome, were among five people missing, presumed dead, in Illica alone.

Dozens more died in neighbouring villages and more than 2,000 people have been made temporarily homeless by a quake that struck without warning in the middle of the night.

Just after midday, nearly nine hours after the first quake shook residents and holiday-makers from their sleep, army excavators were still making their way up to a village situated at an altitude of 800m.

In some of the deserted shells of what were once family homes, phones rang off the hook.

Firemen guided two dogs over piles of rubble for signs of life.

One of the sniffer dogs suddenly stopped and went back to a particular spot.

That was where the digging would start, but Ms Daniela Romanato, a former firefighter helping out with the rescue operation, did not hold out much hope.

"The dogs are trained to search and then indicate trapped people," she explained.

"Just now, one has indicated there is someone underneath the rubble here, but (it was) without barking, which unfortunately means the person trapped is most likely dead."

In Accumoli, a family of four, including two boys aged eight months and nine years, were buried when their house collapsed.

As rescue workers carried away the body of the infant, carefully covered by a small blanket, the children's grandmother wailed: "He (God) took them all at once."

Aerial photographs showed whole areas of Amatrice, voted last year as one of Italy's most beautiful historic towns, flattened by the quake.

"It is all young people here, it is holiday season, the town festival was to have been held the day after tomorrow, so lots of people came for that," said Amatrice resident Giancarlo, sitting along the road in his underwear.

"It is terrible, I am 65 years old and I have never experienced anything like this. Small tremors, yes, but nothing this big. This is a catastrophe," he said.

In Illica, the wind was whipping up the dust and, at the entrance to the tiny hamlet, children were dressed in the winter coats and slippers they grabbed when the quake struck.

Some had since returned for mattresses and pillows and laid them out in gardens. Civil protection workers distributed sandwiches and water.

Mr Domenico Bordo looked on as the search progressed.

"We live quite far away but felt the quake," he said.

"We rushed to watch the news on television, and as soon as we saw it was here, we called my sister again and again, but she didn't answer."

He added: "I feared the worst, and was right. I don't see how she could have survived under there."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Race to save lives under the rubble'. Print Edition | Subscribe