Italy marks national day of mourning after quake

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Firefighters stand next to a collapsed house following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca - RTX2NABM

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Good evening, and thanks for joining us.

As Italy marked a national day of mourning, rescue workers spent a fourth day searching for survivors of the devastating earthquake, but found none. Italian authorities say at least 291 people were killed when the overnight quake struck mainly in three towns on Wednesday. Almost 400 injured are in hospitals.

Today, Italy’s president and prime minister attended a state funeral for 35 of those victims, including two children in tiny white coffins. The worst hit town is Amatrice, and that’s where “NewsHour” weekend special correspondent Christopher Livesay joins us.

Christopher, the funerals for all these people began today.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY, NEWHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: That’s right. In fact, today was declared a national day of mourning, the prime minister and president both were here in attendance. Now, it was originally scheduled to be a day of celebration. Today would have marked the 50th anniversary of the town of Amatrice’s famous pasta dish, La Pasta Amatriciana.

Amatrice is the town where I’m standing right now, and it was at the epicenter of this quake. One of the sad stories you come across is the fact that because of this food festival, the town’s population practically doubled because of all the visitors who were here from elsewhere in Italy and even further afield. So, of course, that celebration did not take place. Instead there was a state funeral in a town nearby here called Ascoli Piceno.

There were lots of sad stories told there. One, however, was sort of uplifting, it was story of two sisters, one who actually seemed to have sacrificed herself grabbing on to her little sister who is four years old. The big sister died but the little sister was able to survive.

SREENIVASAN: All right. What about the rescue turning into recovery efforts. What about those who are still missing?

LIVESAY: Well, in this city there are approximately 20 people who are still unaccounted for. So, technically, the rescue effort is still ongoing, there is 100-hour window which rescuers can still expect to find, or at least hope to find survivors if the survivors have some access to water.

However, that window is now closing, so the rescuers I speak to really don’t seem optimistic. In fact, they tell me that they only expect to recover bodies at this point.

SREENIVASAN: And this is not a region that’s unfamiliar with earthquake, some of the buildings behind you were supposed to be retro-fitted to be stronger, what happened?

LIVESAY: That’s absolutely right. Well, that’s a good question. In fact a state prosecutor has opened up over a hundred probes into building that allegedly should have been stable and should have been able to withstand a quake like this. The question is, why didn’t they? Was it a question of the money never getting to where it should be? Was it a question of corruption? In fact, Italy is a country that is no stranger when it comes to corruption, and that’s a question that we’re hearing asked when it comes to the reconstruction period.

In fact, the Italian anti-corruption czar spoke out against that today, warning against mafia infiltration. Italy, as you know, is a seismic region. It’s had lots of earthquakes in the past. There have been cases of these big lucrative building contracts going out to people with mafia connections. So, that’s something that officials are looking out for right now.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Christopher Livesay, joining us from Amatrice, Italy — thanks so much.

LIVESAY: Thank you, Hari.

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