As the quake's death toll grows, scenes of tragedy and heroism in central Italy

A mother embraces her son in Amatrice, Italy, following an earthquake Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Massimo Percossi, EPA)

The official death toll now stands at 241 and counting after the magnitude 6.0 earthquake and over 300 aftershocks devastated the homes and lives of thousands of people in central Italy in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Aug. 24. 

At least 350 have been injured, over 2,000 are without a home and an unknown number are still buried under the ruins of their homes in mountain villages in central Italy. A massive rescue operation involving over 4,000 civil protection workers and firefighters is under way and has managed to save the lives of very many people, including children. Pope Francis has sent six of the Vatican’s 36 firefighters as well as six Vatican police to assist in the relief efforts.

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For more than 24 hours, Italians have followed distressing and emotional scenes on TV, as heroic rescuers worked against the clock to save many young and old—in spite of lesser earthquakes, including one of 4-plus magnitude last night, and wave after wave of aftershocks. 

The sorrow and pain is great. The stories of heroic deeds of rescuers, and ordinary men and women, are great, too. One particularly moving episode, reported in the media, involved Mauro, a father of a family, who on being alerted to what happened, drove immediately with his wife through the night from Rome to Pescaro del Tronto. He succeeded in finding and, with the help of rescuers, saving his two boys—Samuele and Leone—who were buried under the rubble of their collapsed home. They were saved also thanks to their grandmother, Valentina, who got them to go under the bed when the earthquake started.

Another moment that brought great joy came 17 hours after the earthquake, when a firefighter, helped by his colleagues, managed to pull out 4-year-old Giorgia, who was buried under her destroyed house in Amatrice just before 3:30 a.m. Sadly, they could not save her sister.

One young woman who survived the terrible earthquake in Aquila in 2009, also survived this one, but her young baby did not. 

A school that had been fortified against quakes just four years ago crumbled in the now no-longer-existent town of Amatrice, raising many questions.

Some 190 of the dead came from the Rieti province. Pope Francis phoned the local bishop yesterday to encourage him and to assure the people of his prayers and closeness to them. Another 60 or more died in the nearby province of Ascoli Piceno.

The Italian church has already donated one million euro to the relief efforts, and on Sept. 18 a collection will be held in all the churches across the country to raise money to help the victims of this latest natural disaster, whose epicentre was just over 100 miles from Rome. 

The Civil Protection Agency, helped by a variety of associations, is setting up tents to provide food and shelter to 2,000 people in the stricken zones. But fear is widespread throughout central Italy where so many have died, and where homes, public buildings and churches are no more.

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