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Daily Archives: April 8, 2009

Italy races to find survivors as quake toll hits 179

Italian rescuers raced against time yesterday to find survivors from an earthquake that killed at least 179 people, toiling through the night pulling away rubble with their bare hands.
A woman rescued by a group of specialist cavers, 23 hours after the powerful quake devastated the town of L'Aquila, having painstakingly removed slabs of concrete that trapped the 24-year-old.
The rescue of rescue of Marta Valente was a rare piece of good news and hopes of saving more of the dozens of people still missing rapidly faded.
Hundreds of people were being treated in a field hospital set up inside the medieval city. Some 1,500 people were injured by the quake which devastated L'Aquila and surrounding villages.
Volunteer groups joined professional rescue teams who used sniffer dogs to locate other victims , working overnight with mechanical diggers under giant spotlights to lift the heaviest rubble.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency in the central Abruzzo region and cancelled a trip to Russia in order to visit L'Aquila, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Rome.
"No one will be abandoned to his fate," he vowed.
About 17,000 people lost their homes, rescue authorities said yesterday, and a tent village was set up for between 16,000 and 20,000 people.
Interior Minister Robert Maroni announced 130 million euros (175 million dollars) in emergency funds for the rescue operation, and that more funds would become available.
"We will find all the resources we need for this national emergency," Maroni said on Italian television.
However anger towards the authorities was mounting, with villagers saying the warning signs had been clear to see in recent weeks.
"It was the apocalypse, 20 minutes of hell, our house collapsed. It's destroyed, and there's nothing left to recover," said L'Aquila resident Maria Francesco.
"It's a scandal what's happened," she told AFP. "For the past three months there have been regular tremors, and they've been getting stronger and stronger!"
Of the 179 dead, 39 were in the tiny nearby town of Onna, which had a population of around 250, the ANSA news agency said.
"My husband has been helping the resuce workers and he has been taking away bodies with his bare hands. It is just a nightmare," said one Onna resident called Silvana, who would only give her first name, as she pointed to a pile of bricks and mortar that once housed the local school.
Dozens of people spent the night trying to sleep in their cars, as the temperatures dropped to near freezing.
With so many homes and businesses abandoned, there were reports of looting.
Maroni said 200 police were assigned to patrol against looting.
"Unfortunately there were a few cases yesterday, and today we will reinforce the contingent," he added.
The epicentre of the quake was under L'Aquila and massive destruction was reported for 30 kilometres (20 miles) in all directions from the town. The nearby villages of Villa Sant'Angelo and Borgo di Castelnuovo were practically wiped out.
The national geophysical institute recorded 280 aftershocks had been recorded since the main quake at 3:32 am (0132 GMT) Monday morning, ANSA said.
The quake lasted about 30 seconds, bringing down many buildings, including the dome on the 16th-century San Bernardino church. The city's cathedral was also damaged.
Roofs caved in on sleeping inhabitants and boulders fell off mountain slopes blocking many roads.
Doctors treated people in the open air outside L'Aquila's main hospital as only one operating room was functioning.
L'Aquila suffered the biggest toll while police reported deaths in the towns and villages of Castelnuovo, Poggio Picenze, Torminparte, Fossa, Totani and Villa Sant'Angelo.
Condolences and offers of help poured in from around the world.
Italy is criss-crossed by two fault lines, making it one of Europe's most quake-vulnerable regions , with some 20 million people at risk.

Nigeria’s ex-president pursued for ‘naira abuse’

A Nigerian group is seeking the prosecution of former president Olusegun Obasanjo for "spraying currency on dancers" at his 70th birthday party, Lagos media said yesterday.
The Nation newspaper said the Human and Environmental Development Agenda has written to Nigeria's attorney general accusing Obasanjo of violating a 2007 law banning the abuse of the 'naira', which was signed by him while in power.
The group said the offending incident took place at a party last month during his 70th birthday in Abeokuta, his country home.
"We hereby request the enforcement of this law by your office through the arrest and prosecution of Chief Obasanjo without further delay," it added.