FRANCE – Frantic search for earthquake survivors
AMATRICE –– Another rough shake of the ground. Would-be rescuers scatter as a few already-damaged structures tumble down. Clouds of gray dust rise through the air.
And when it settles, they go back at it, desperate to find anyone who might miraculously have survived this week’s quake that killed at least 250 people and injured more than 360 others in central Italy.
A 4.1 magnitude aftershock on Thursday shook aid workers as they sorted through debris in the afternoon sun in the town of Amatrice, one of many tremors to have followed Wednesday morning’s 6.2-magnitude quake that reduced villages to rubble.
A CNN crew in Amatrice was filming in front of a house Thursday when the structure partially collapsed, and others around it were completely flattened.
“People were just running onto the roads away from buildings in a panic. We saw our cameras shaking, and journalists here too were panicking,” said CNN producer Margot Haddad.
It was more bad news for rescuers, who have been desperately combing through mountains of rubble for a second day. Wednesday’s quake blocked off narrow streets in ancient towns, making the rescue operation extremely difficult.
An emergency hospital camp is set up to treat earthquake victims in Arquata del Tronto.
With heavy lifting equipment just starting to reach isolated villages and towns that were cut off by landslides and building debris, people used tractors, farm equipment and simple hand tools to break through what was left of old stone villas.
“Many cases have shown in the past that even after two days, people can be rescued alive,” said Luigi D’Angelo from Italy’s Civil Protection agency. “So we want to continue.”
CNN correspondent Frederik Pleitgen saw machinery moving in through the narrow lanes in Amatrice and rescuers using sniffer dogs to help find more bodies.
But rescuers, including foreign search crews, were also using sound detectors, hoping to find more survivors.
“They know right now it’s a race against time. They believe it’s about 72 hours those people would be able to survive,” Pletigen said.
“In most cases, unfortunately, the only thing they’re able to retrieve is their bodies and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve seen the death toll rise so much overnight.”
After mostly pulling bodies from the rubble, rescue crews in Pescara del Tronto were overjoyed Wednesday evening to hear what sounded like the cries of a survivor.
“Quiet! Quiet” they said, getting closer to the source of sound.
The scene was captured on video by CNN affiliate Sky TG24, which reported that a girl had been trapped beneath the ruins for 17 hours.
A firefighter clawed at the debris, trying to get to her.
“Come on . . . Come on. Slowly, slowly. Mind her head,” they said to one another as onlookers applauded in support.
Suddenly there was a foot, a leg, and then the other leg.
The young girl, later identified as ten-year-old Giorgia, was finally pulled out with great care to a rousing cheer.
“She’s alive!” a witness joyously cries.
But Giorgia’s survival is sadly an anomaly so far in the massive rescue operation, which involves more than 5,400 rescuers from Italy’s Civil Protection agency, and many more from outside groups.
In Saletta, a town of just 20 homes less than a mile from the quake’s epicenter, an eerie quiet has taken over.
“We saw unfortunately only bodies pulled out,” CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau said from the village, where 22 people were killed.
“We didn’t see any happy stories here,” she added.
Nadeau and her crew narrowly escaped injury when a home collapsed behind her in Saletta as she did a Facebook Live session Wednesday.
More than 1,200 people have been displaced by the quake, and Italy’s Civil Protection agency said no residents were allowed to sleep in the devastated town of Amatrice on Wednesday night.