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Originally published April 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 8, 2009 at 9:13 AM

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Buildings, Onna's soul destroyed following earthquake in Italy

Italy's deadly earthquake killed 40 of the hamlet's 300 inhabitants, crushing them as they slept, and forced the survivors to join a stream of thousands of homeless. It turned a picturesque, close-knit community into a saddened town populated by a few numbed survivors.

The Associated Press

Quake developments

Death toll: The death toll from Italy's worst earthquake in three decades climbed to 235, with 15 still missing, civil-protection officials said.

Aftershocks: Strong aftershocks Tuesday sent a fresh wave of fear across earthquake-shattered central Italy, and rescue crews pulled a young woman alive from a collapsed building about 42 hours after the main quake struck the mountainous region.

Homeless: Official estimates of those left homeless by the quake were lowered to between 17,000 and 25,000, from 50,000, because many moved in with friends or relatives. Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who visited one of the encampments, said an estimated 14,500 people were being sheltered in the blue tents.

Buildings damaged: Officials said some 10,000 to 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed in the 26 cities, towns and villages around L'Aquila, a picturesque city of 70,000.

The Associated Press

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ONNA, Italy — Some stumbled around dazed, still wearing the pajamas they fled in. Others wept or stared at heart-wrenching items jutting out of a pile of rubble three stories high: a child's shattered guitar, a little girl's play stroller — a bloodstained mattress.

In this tiny village, barely anything is left standing.

Italy's deadly earthquake killed 40 of the hamlet's 300 inhabitants, crushing them as they slept, and forced the survivors to join a stream of thousands of homeless. It turned a picturesque, close-knit community into a saddened town populated by a few numbed survivors.

"It seems like all the young people are the ones who died," Maria Rita Colaianni said Tuesday, clutching a gold-embossed vase she recovered from the wreckage of her pancaked home in Onna, 80 miles northeast of Rome in the heart of the quake zone.

The 34-year-old, her parents and a brother escaped with their lives. Their next-door neighbors all died, including a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old.

Maj. Cristina Di Tommaso of Italy's civil-protection service said there was little hope of finding anyone alive in the towering heaps of jagged concrete and twisted steel.

"Ninety percent of Onna just crumbled," she said. Firefighters said they had shifted from a rescue to a recovery operation, and were focusing on shoring up buildings and clearing debris.

Di Tommaso said efforts to determine how many villagers remain unaccounted for were complicated by authorities' discovery that an undetermined number of undocumented immigrants were staying in Onna when the quake struck early Monday.

Officials were still trying to find out where the migrants came from. Most of Italy's illegal immigrants are from Romania, northern Africa or the former Yugoslavia.

Villagers said many of Onna's younger teens were on a class trip to France when the quake hit. Some, they said, would be returning as orphans.

"It's hard because we know everyone, and we know every family lost at least two people, a brother or a cousin," said Martina Chiaravalle, 16, wandering a field looking for classmates among the blue canvas tents set up to house survivors and rescue workers.

On the road that links the village to L'Aquila, a hard-hit city where victims were trapped in the wreckage of a university dormitory, quake refugees prepared to spend another chilly night in their cars. Thousands more from surrounding villages were making their way to seaside areas of Abruzzo, where hotel owners have made 6,500 hotel beds available to the region's newly homeless, said Emilio Shirato, president of the Abruzzo hotel association. Onna's fieldstone church lay in ruins. So did others in neighboring towns, their statues of Jesus and Mary tilted at odd angles and their altars dusted with a layer of grit — reminders in this devoutly Roman Catholic country that death came to Onna at the start of Holy Week.

Nestled in mountainous terrain and surrounded by fallow fields in a region of small farms and little manufacturing, the village's future is uncertain.

Virgilio Colajanni, a 70-year-old retiree, choked back tears as his daughter-in-law cooked pasta over a gas stove in the family's cinder-block shelter.

"We lost 15 members of our family. Babies and children died," said Colajanni. Colajanni said he always loved living in Onna, a humble, honest place to raise a family.

"But now, this place will always remind me of death, not life," he said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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