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A miraculous rescue and stunned survivors after Italy quake

by Staff Writers
L'Aquila, Italy (AFP) April 7, 2009
A 98-year-old woman Tuesday made it out alive, crocheting under rubble while waiting for rescuers, as others in this quake-hit Italian city sought to come to grips with death and devastation.

"I had two friends in there," Bernardo, 52, said as he looked at a damaged building, his expression leaving no doubt about their fate.

The nonagerian was rescued early Tuesday after about 30 hours under debris, Italian media reported. Maria D'Antuono told the ANSA news agency she whiled away the time by "doing crochet."

Sky TG24 said D'Antuono was in good condition when she was evacuated.

L'Aquila -- the capital of the Abruzzo region -- was a ghost town less than 36 hours after the quake, with its overall death toll climbing past 200.

Children sheltered at a blue tent city still being set up by the interior ministry eagerly accepted pastries from the nearby town of Rieti as snacks.

Tinned food, hot pasta and water were handed out to long lines of homeless survivors as mothers consoled their babies.

Teenagers tried to reach friends on their mobile phones after recharging their batteries at a rescue point.

"We were lucky enough to sleep in one of the unheated tents last night where they provided beds and blankets," said 56-year-old Fernanda.

"Others were not so lucky and slept in their cars," she said, sitting on a bed, flanked by her eight- and 10-year-old granddaughters.

Seven-year-old Francesco and his six-year old brother Silvio watched rescue workers setting up more tents.

"I miss school because here. I can't be with my friends," Francesco said.

Two clowns -- one with a red plastic nose, the other with a tiny red heart painted on the tip of her nose -- made their way through the crowd of homeless children trying to cheer them up.

"This is the least we can do for the children," said Doctor Tric Trac of the Sorridi in Ospedale (Bring a smile to the hospital) troupe, a young aid worker in his early 30s who would not give his real name.

Tric Trac and colleague Doctor Piperita normally work in hospital wards for children with serious ailments like cancer.

"We could have done without this though," Piperita said.

Lines were forming at a makeshift pharmacy where those needing urgent medication could get prescription drugs.

Most people on the streets of L'Aquila's city centre, where even supposedly quake-safe modern structures crumbled, appeared dazed.

Throughout the city centre the distant sound of alarms could be heard wailing from apartments their tenants left in a rush.

"I don't know how I got out of my apartment," said 72-year-old Berta, still in shock, as her husband gave her a tender hug.

"We have a house in the countryside nearby where we could go, but they told us to stay away because they consider that it's not safe," she said. "We have nowhere else to go."

Five of Berta's seven grandchildren have lost their mother, she said, wiping away tears.

Many survivors refused to talk to reporters, or even to their neighbours.

A 10-minute walk away, a crowd of curious onlookers had formed as rescuers silently worked in line to retrieve those buried in the rubble of a four-storey building.

They said three bodies were removed earlier Tuesday.

Apartment buildings nearby were still standing but marked by the violence of the earthquake. Others appeared untouched, but all were now empty as officials feared more aftershocks.

Next to the tent city, a Disney-like fairground was also closed, but as it suffered no apparent damage children were begging to take a ride.

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