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Quake survivors protest in Rome as avalanche toll hits 24

AFP , Wednesday 25 Jan 2017
People protest in support of people affected by the earthquake in downtown Rome, Italy, January 25, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Hundreds of Italians whose homes were devastated in a series of deadly earthquakes protested in Rome Wednesday at the slow pace of government aid as the death toll from an avalanche-hit hotel rose to 24.

The demonstrators, many of them from mountain villages left in ruins by the earthquakes which rocked Italy in August and October, urged the government to move faster on providing aid to populations still reeling from disaster.

With some wearing sashes in the red, white and green of the Italian flag, they marched through Rome's historic city centre toward the Montecitorio parliament building, carrying signs reading: "To rebuild, we need hearts and hands. Where are yours?"

Another held up a placard reading: "Bureaucracy kills more than the earthquake."

"We came to protest the government's delays on reconstruction work," protest coordinator Mirko Fioravanti told AFP, saying little had been done in since August.

"Few things have been accomplished in five months, not even the essential," he said.

"Even if the task is great, things could have been done in a manner better suited to the situation, and definitely much faster."

Among the crowd were survivors from Amatrice, the mountain town devastated by the August quake which left nearly 300 people dead, while others came from the towns of Accumoli, Norcia, and Arquata del Tronto.

Last year's quakes left thousands of homes in ruins or structurally unsafe, emptying a string of villages and small towns across Italy's mountainous central regions, with an estimated 40,000 people forced to find shelter.

Writing on Facebook, former prime minister Matteo Renzi said the delivery of temporary homes for quake victims was due to take place "before Easter".

But Francesca Mileto, another protest coordinator, said the pace was too slow. "We want to shock the bureaucracy into speeding up these cumbersome procedures," she told AFP.

The protest came as rescuers struggled to find the last five people still unaccounted for, presumed dead, at the Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy which was buried by a wall of snow on January 18.

Eleven people, including all four children, survived.

The deadly avalanche followed the heaviest snowfall seen in the mountains of central Italy in decades and may have been triggered by a series of powerful earthquakes which rocked the region earlier the same day.

The combination of the extreme weather and the quakes has claimed at least 11 lives unrelated to the hotel disaster.

Six of them died when a helicopter crashed at the Campo Felice ski resort on Tuesday.

Rescuers have vowed to continue combing through the wreckage of the Rigopiano but sub-zero overnight temperatures meant there was little hope of finding anyone else alive on the seventh day of the search.

The last survivors extracted from the rubble were pulled out on Saturday after being located on Friday morning. They were all suffering from mild hypothermia.

A prosecutor is examining whether the disaster could have been avoided with better risk-assessment procedures.

But Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has warned against launching a hunt for scapegoats to assuage the grief of those who have lost loved ones.

"We are proud of the emergency services who were confronted with absolutely exceptional snowfalls and two of whom gave their lives," Gentiloni told parliament Wednesday, referring to two mountain rescuers who died in the helicopter crash.

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