Construction crews worked through the night to build a tent complex to host an Italian state funeral Tuesday in quake-devastated Amatrice after outraged residents rejected the government’s plan to hold the service in a distant airport hangar.
The evening Mass for 37 of the 292 people killed is the second state funeral for victims of the Aug. 24 temblor that flattened three towns in central Italy. The first, held Saturday, honored victims from the Le Marche region. Tuesday’s funeral is for the victims of neighboring Lazio, which includes hard-hit Amatrice.
The service will take place on the edge of Amatrice’s obliterated medieval town center on the grounds of a Catholic retreat. It comes as Italy observed a second day of national mourning, with flags on public buildings flying at half-staff.
Initially, authorities planned to hold the funeral in the provincial capital of Rieti, 65 kilometers (40 miles) away, citing safety and organizational concerns. The quake area has seen more than 2,500 aftershocks and faces logistical problems in bringing relatives and government officials into a town with only one serviceable access road.
But grieving residents rebelled at plans to let them watch it on TV or be bussed to Rieti. Sensing a public relations disaster, Premier Matteo Renzi reversed course late Monday and announced the funeral would be held in Amatrice.
Early Tuesday, bulldozers and steamrollers prepared the grounds for the service while a huge, open-sided tented roof was erected to shelter the altar and seating area.
Civil protection officials said 37 caskets would be on hand; many families have already claimed loved ones and held private funerals for them elsewhere.
So far, 231 quake victims have been found in Amatrice and 11 more in nearby Accumoli. The bodies of as many as 10 people, including Amatrice’s baker, are believed still buried in the rubble. Fifty people were killed in Le Marche.
Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos was travelling to Amatrice to participate in the state funeral and comfort Romanian survivors, since 11 of the dead were Romanians. Some 8,000 to 10,000 Romanians live in the quake zone.
As Italy prepared to bid farewell to more victims, prosecutors worked to see if construction firms or others bore any possible responsibility for buildings that collapsed in the 4.2-magnitude quake.
Several public buildings, including a school and a church tower, had been recently renovated using public funds designated for anti-seismic improvements. Other buildings had been flagged as being at high seismic risk and public funds set aside, but renovations were never done, Italian newspapers reported.
Rieti Prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva was examining to see what was stipulated in the contracts to restore the buildings and what exactly was done, including on Amatrice’s elementary school, which collapsed despite being renovated in 2012 using earthquake funds.
“First we must obtain all the documents from the contract and bidding processes, through to the inspections,” Saieva told the Il Messaggero daily on Tuesday. “Only then can we know what the responsibilities were of all those involved.”
For those who survived, Tuesday’s funeral is only one step in tackling a long-term trauma.
“They’re living through a blackout,” said Letizia Bellabarba, a social worker who is tending to survivors. “I mean, in 20 seconds – that’s how long the earthquake lasted – in 20 seconds their life changed. So they are disoriented, because they feel they were left without a future.”