Dion: Canadian among those killed in Italian earthquake

Over 3,000 Canadians registered as being in Italy, with 72 in the areas affected by the earthquake

People stand along a road following a quake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

People stand along a road following a quake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

OTTAWA – One Canadian was killed and another was injured during this week’s devastating earthquake in central Italy, where aftershocks continue to rattle residents and rescue workers.

“I was extremely saddened to see the tragic loss of life following the devastating earthquake in central Italy, which now includes the death of a Canadian citizen,” Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said in a statement Thursday.

“We share in the grief of the lives cut short by this terrible event.”

The government did not identify the Canadians or say they were from, citing privacy. They were among the hundreds killed and injured when a 6.2-magnitude quake levelled three small towns in central Italy early Wednesday morning.

The area was struck again by a 4.3-magnitude aftershock Thursday that crumbled already cracked buildings as rescue workers struggled to find survivors among the rubble. It was only one of the more than 470 temblors that have followed Wednesday’s pre-dawn quake.

Italy’s civil protection agency said the death toll had risen to 250 Thursday afternoon with at least 365 others hospitalized. Most of the dead _ 184 of them _ were in Amatrice, a tiny town 100 kilometres northeast of Rome. A Spaniard and five Romanians were also among the dead, according to their governments.

There was no clear estimate of the missing, since the rustic area was packed with summer vacationers ahead of a popular Italian food festival this weekend. The Romanian government alone said 11 of its citizens were missing.

Global Affairs Canada said 72 Canadians were registered as being in the affected area when the earthquake struck. However, the numbers are likely low as many Canadians never register with the department while travelling abroad. Officials did not say whether any Canadians are missing.

Dion said he had spoken with his Italian counterpart to express Canada’s condolences and support, and officials said the government is waiting for any request for assistance.

“Canada continues to stand behind the people of Italy during this difficult period.”

Firefighters and rescue crews using sniffer dogs worked in teams around the hard-hit areas, pulling chunks of cement, rock and metal from mounds of rubble where homes once stood.

Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and nearby Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometres further to the east, where rescue crews were still looking for three people believed crushed in a hard-to-reach area.

Rescuers refused to say when their work would shift from saving lives to recovering bodies, noting that one person was pulled alive from the rubble 72 hours after the 2009 quake in the Italian town of L’Aquila.

Many have been left homeless by the scale of the destruction, their homes and apartments declared uninhabitable.

Emergency services set up tent cities around the quake-devastated towns to accommodate the homeless, housing about 1,200 people overnight. In Amatrice, 50 elderly people and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.

Charitable assistance began pouring into the earthquake zone in traffic-clogging droves Thursday. Church groups from a variety of Christian denominations, along with farmers offering donated peaches, pumpkins and plums, sent vans along the one-way road into Amatrice that was already packed with emergency vehicles and trucks carrying sniffer dogs. Other assistance was spiritual.

“When we learned that the hardest hit place was here, we came, we spoke to our bishop and he encouraged us to come here to comfort the families of the victims,” said the Rev. Marco as he walked through Pescara del Tronto. “They have given us a beautiful example, because their pain did not take away their dignity.”

Some experts estimate that 70 per cent of Italy’s buildings aren’t built to anti-seismic standards, though not all are in high-risk areas. After every major quake, proposals are made to improve, but they often languish in Italy’s thick bureaucracy and chronic funding shortages.

In recent Italian quakes, some modern buildings – many of them public institutions – have been the deadliest. Those included the university dormitory that collapsed in the 2009 L’Aquila quake, killing 11 students and the elementary school that crumbled in San Giuliano di Puglia in 2002, killing 27 children – the town’s entire first-grade class – while surrounding buildings survived unscathed.

Major quakes in Italy are often followed by criminal charges being filed against architects, builders and officials responsible for public works if the buildings crumble. In the case of the L’Aquila quake, prosecutors also put six geologists on trial for allegedly having failed to adequately warn residents about the temblor. Their convictions were overturned on appeal.

With files from the Associated Press

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