Amatrice (Italy), Aug 30: Italy today held a poignantly symbolic funeral for victims of last week's earthquake amid the ruins of Amatrice, the small town that bore the brunt of the disaster.
President Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and a senior representative of Pope Francis were among hundreds of mourners at the service on the edge of the hilltop beauty spot where 231 of the quake's 292 confirmed fatalities occurred.
The coffins of nearly 40 of them were laid out for a service held just yards from piles of collapsed masonry, a hastily-constructed temporary structure allowing the solemn funeral mass to proceed under cover from the rain.
The venue was a last-minute decision after grieving locals reacted with fury to a proposal for the funeral to be held in an aircraft hangar in the main town in the district, Rieti, some 64 kilometres away.
The drizzle provided a reminder of how soon summer will turn to chilly autumn in this remote, mountainous area of central Italy, making life even more uncomfortable for hundreds of homeless residents facing an indefinite stay in tented villages erected to house them.
Also presented in Amatrice were Rome mayor Virginia Raggi, paying her respects to the more than 80 residents of the capital who died, and Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos. At least 11 Romanian nationals died in the quake, most of them in Amatrice.
Most of those who died had already been buried in private family seminars or after a first state funeral in Ascoli Piceno on Saturday.
The bishop of Rieti, Domenico Pompili, presided over today's ceremony, urging the leaders present not to allow reconstruction to get bogged down in "political quarrels."
"If we abandon these villages, we will kill them for a second time," the bishop said.
With the public acts of mourning completed, the focus will now shift to helping survivors deal with the aftermath of the disaster and answering numerous questions about why it had such a deadly impact.
For the Civil Protection agency, the top priority is providing adequate shelter for some 2,900 people who are without permanent accommodation barely two months from the onset of what is often a severe winter.
The issue of where local children will be educated is also pressing with the autumn term due to start by the middle of September at the latest.