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Italy Quake Victims Mark Somber Easter Holiday


Thousands of people made homeless by Italy's deadliest earthquake in 30 years celebrated a somber Easter on Sunday. Six days after the quake struck and with the death toll now standing at 294, masses were held in makeshift chapels set up in tent cities. The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi traveled to the devastated area again on Sunday. He has promised not to abandon the people affected by the quake.

In the more than 30 tent cities hosting thousands of people made homeless by last Monday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake, priests offered communion wafers at makeshift altars. The mood this Easter in the Abruzzo region was somber as many prayed for relatives and friends they lost to the quake.

Aid workers distributed brightly wrapped chocolate Easter eggs to cheer up the children and their distraught families. Traditional Easter meals of lamb were organized in the camps and Italian dove-shaped Easter cake was also handed out.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday declared the emergency phase over but said it would be months before most of the people displaced will know if they can go back to their homes.

Prosecutors are investigating why so many modern buildings were flattened by the quake and whether flawed construction materials were to blame.

Mr. Berlusconi attended a mass for rescuers and volunteers at a police academy in L'Aquila on Easter Sunday and complimented them for their work.In this occasion, he said, we certainly took a step forward to make all of us feel we belong to the same country and we can be proud of our generosity and the assistance we have provided to all these people. I believe I can speak for the whole nation when I say this and compliment you for your work.

Berlusconi added that everything possible would be done to get people out of tents in the shortest possible time.

The search for possible quake survivors has now ended and officials said that no one remains officially missing. But the possibility that dead bodies may still emerge as the rubble is cleared is not being ruled out.

One person died in the hospital Sunday, raising the death toll to 294. And six victims were being buried, two days after a collective funeral was held for more than 200 people.

People prayed on Easter Sunday and tried to find comfort in religion. But the aftershocks in the region continue and residents remain nervous.

In his Easter greetings to Italians, Pope Benedict urged survivors not to lose hope. He has said he would visit the stricken area after Easter Sunday.

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