Italy mourns quake dead as hope for survivors wanes

Amatrice, Aug 27 (AFP) Hopes were fading Saturday of finding more survivors under the rubble of the devastating earthquake in central Italy, which has already claimed at least 281 lives.

The first funerals for victims of the devastating quake that hit the mountainous region this week were held Friday as the country prepared for an emotionally charged day of mourning.

Flags will fly at half-mast across the country on Saturday in respect for the victims of a disaster that killed at least 281 lives and left another 388 injured, according to an updated official toll.

The Civil Protection agency's emergency unit said no new survivors had been found Friday in the remote mountain villages blitzed by Wednesday's powerful pre-dawn quake. 

At least 388 people have been hospitalised with injuries. No one has been pulled alive from the piles of collapsed masonry since Wednesday evening.

"We will go on searching and digging until we are certain there is no one left," said Luigi D'Angelo, a Civil Protection officer working in the town of Amatrice, where the death toll stands at 221.

Forestry police officer Valerio Checchi said he expected rescuers to shortly start using mechanical diggers to move debris in a sign virtually all hope of finding survivors has gone.

"We will still use thermal devices that can detect the presence of human bodies." said Checchi. 

At least eight foreigners were among the dead, according to updates from foreign ministries.

Britain's foreign office on Friday confirmed that a British couple in their 50s had been killed in the quake as well as a 14-year-old boy, and Romania said two of its nationals, who were living in Italy, had also died.

Spain, Canada and El Salvador each said that one of their citizens had perished.

As powerful aftershocks closed winding mountain roads and made life dangerous for more than 4,000 professionals and volunteers engaged in the rescue effort, survivors voiced dazed bewilderment over the scale of the disaster that struck their sleepy communities.

"I have been through earthquakes before, but this was not a quake, it was an apocalypse," said Anacleto Perotti, 66.(AFP)

PTI