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Aftershocks Rumble Across Central Italy; Quake's Death Toll Rises


In Italy, the death toll keeps rising with more than 240 people now confirmed to have died in yesterday's earthquake. The medieval town of Amatrice was set to hold a festival celebrating its most famous pasta dish when the earthquake hit and hit hard. Amatrice turned out to be located nearly at the epicenter. Jean Franco (ph) is a longtime resident.

JEAN FRANCO: (Speaking Italian).

MONTAGNE: He says his wife and son were saved by a miracle but his mother-in-law, quote, "she's no more." We're joined now on the line from Amatrice by reporter Chris Livesay. Welcome to the program.


MONTAGNE: What are you seeing, and what's the latest?

LIVESAY: Aftershocks have been ongoing, making it difficult for first responders to continue saving lives, but there's still hope in the air. These are people who have been working around the clock nonstop despite their fatigue. They're still moving forward. They have about 100 hours in which they can still expect to find people surviving underneath the rubble. And since the earthquake was only about 30 hours ago, there's still time and hope in the air.

MONTAGNE: We're hearing dogs in the background.

LIVESAY: Right. So those dogs are actually rescue dogs. And if you hear them barking, that means that they've identified a person. Unfortunately, there's no way to know whether or not that person is dead or alive. So that's what they're here for, but there's dogs all over the place. They're really on the front line with all the human first responders.

MONTAGNE: How much hope is there that those who they are - know are under the rubble have survived?

LIVESAY: There's more than I expected, quite honestly. Now, when I arrived here on the scene right after the earthquake yesterday, there was a lot of hope in the air, and there was also a lot of energy. People were arriving fresh, and they were ready to do whatever they could. They were digging with their bare hands, on their knees in some cases. And it appears that's when most of the survivors were found. However, as time goes on, they're extracting more and more bodies than they are survivors. So that's certainly playing a role on the morale. That said, today is a new day. There are fresh rescue workers here, and people I've spoken to, from rescue dog handlers to police officers to ambulance drivers, they're still optimistic.

MONTAGNE: And what are the people living in this town - what do they need most right now? Is there even any place to sleep?

LIVESAY: So they have set up some tents for people to sleep in. Some of them are indoors inside of an auditorium that's been converted into a dormitory. But other people are opting to sleep out in the open in sleeping bags in the park far away from any structures that might fall as these aftershocks continue to come. One thing they do need is blood. They're asking that people donate blood and not just for the immediate aftermath but for what they think are going to be, you know, injuries that continue to the surface throughout this rescue process.

So many of these towns that were afflicted are in hard-to-reach places. So they think that there are many people that still haven't been identified as missing, especially because a lot of the people here are tourists. They're not residents. This is high-tourist season in Italy, and this area sort of doubles in population around this time of year because of tourists. So it's hard to even find out who should be here and who is just passing through.

MONTAGNE: That's reporter Chris Livesay in the town of Amatrice in central Italy, one of the worst hit by yesterday's earthquake. Thank you very much.

LIVESAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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