Bells tolled in hilltowns across central Italy on Wednesday as the first funerals got under way for victims of the country's devastating earthquake. The Vatican granted a dispensation so a funeral Mass for most of the 272 dead could be celebrated on Good Friday.
As more bodies were pulled from the rubble, some of the 28,000 homeless spent another day lining up for food and water at some of the 20 tent camps that have sprouted up around this quake-devastated city.
Pope Benedict XVI said he would visit the area soon.
Rescue efforts continued for the 15 people still missing, but officials began discussing rebuilding the stricken region and reopening schools. They stressed it would take a month or two to have a clear idea of the extent of the damage.
"For now the needs are basic. The people in the camps, they don't have toothbrushes, they don't have toothpaste," said Massimo Cialente, mayor of the hard-hit city of L'Aquila. "You can't find a place to buy cigarettes or get a coffee."
The magnitude-6.3 quake hit L'Aquila and several towns covering 230 square miles (600 square kilometers) in central Italy early Monday, leveling buildings and reducing entire blocks to piles of rubble. It was the worst quake to hit Italy in three decades.
The death toll stood at 272, six of whom hadn't been identified, the ANSA news agency reported, citing carabinieri police. Sixteen of the dead were children, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said.
Of the injured, 100 remained in serious condition, he said.
One 98-year-old survivor, rescued by firemen in the hamlet of Tempera 30 hours after quake, said in an interview on private Italia Uno TV network, that while she lay in her bed, surrounded by pieces of fallen plaster, she passed the time by crocheting.
Maria D'Antuono said that when firefighters arrived to help her out of her home, she ate some crackers then told her rescuers, "At least let me comb my hair" before she was brought outside.
Two people were arrested for suspected looting Wednesday in the nearly leveled town of Onna, the ANSA news agency said, citing police. They were freed after proving to police the euro80,000 ($105,000) they had on them was theirs, ANSA said.
Berlusconi said looting in the quake zone was on the rise and that the government was considering an increase in penalties. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters that anti-looting police patrols would also be stepped up.
Madonna pledged $500,000 in quake relief, said Fernando Caparso, the mayor of Pacentro, the mountainside village where two of the pop star's grandparents were born.
On Wednesday, the first funerals got under way for the victims, including for Giuseppe Chiavaroli, 24, a football player in a lower-division team who was killed along with his girlfriend in Monday's quake.
As churchbells tolled and onlookers applauded in the typical Italian gesture of mourning, players from his team carried his casket, his sky-blue soccer jersey draped on top.
"We will try to be strong," his father Tomasso Chiavaroli said.
The Vatican's No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was to celebrate a funeral Mass for the bulk of the victims on Friday, Vatican officials said.
The Vatican granted a special dispensation for the Mass to be celebrated since Good Friday, which marks Jesus' death by crucifixion, is the only day in the year in which Mass in not celebrated in the Roman Catholic church.
The funeral is expected to be held in an outdoor square at a police training school in L'Aquila, the Vatican said. "At the moment, there is no church in L'Aquila which can be used," because they are all so damaged, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Ciro Benedettini.
On Wednesday, two bodies were pulled from the partially collapsed dormitory in L'Aquila, ANSA reported. The Israeli Embassy confirmed one of the bodies recovered was an Israeli student from Galilee.
Two others were pulled from the wreckage of a building where a 20-year-old woman was rescued late Tuesday, ANSA said.
The Vatican said Benedict would visit the affected area sometime after Easter Sunday and that he does not want to interfere with relief operations. The pope praised the aid operations as an example of how solidarity can help overcome "even the most painful trials."
"As soon as possible I hope to visit you," Benedict said Wednesday at the Vatican.
Of the 28,000 people homeless, 17,700 were being housed in tent cities, spending much of their time on line — waiting for food and to use the bathrooms. They spent a second night in chilly mountain temperatures, sometimes without heat in their tents and being jolted by aftershocks.
After two days of largely clear skies, conditions were expected to worsen by Thursday, when rain and thunderstorms were forecast for the quake area, AccuWeather.com reported.
In addition, an additional 10,000 people were housed in hotels along the coast, bringing the overall number of homeless to almost 28,000, Berlusconi said.
Since the quake early Monday, some 430 aftershocks have rumbled through the region, including some strong ones, said Marco Olivieri of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome.
"I slept so badly because I kept feeling the aftershocks," said Daniela Nunut at one of the tent camps. The 46-year Romanian-born woman said she and her companion plan to stay in the tent for now. "What can you do? You can't go into the building."
A supermarket, though, is expected to open on Wednesday and officials were trying to make sure a doctor was available in pharmacies to write prescriptions, Cialente, the mayor, said.
In another indication that officials were trying to look beyond the immediate crisis, Berlusconi said he was considering asking each of Italy's 100 provinces to pick a reconstruction project around the region to take charge of.
He also said a new town could be built on L'Aquila's outskirts, primarily to house young people. He stressed it would not be an alternative to rebuilding L'Aquila, but rather to add to the city's housing stock.
AIR Worldwide, a specialist in estimating catastrophe risks, said Wednesday that insured losses to residential, commercial and industrial buildings and contents from the earthquake could be as high as euro400 million ($530 million).
Interior Minister Maroni said the rescue efforts would likely continue until Easter Sunday, beyond the period originally indicated by Berlusconi.