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Italy prepares for reconstruction, starts post-quake probe

Associated Press Associated Press 31/08/2016 By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
An excavator piles rubble as the bell tower of Amatrice stands in the background, in Amatrice, central Italy, at the same time, 3.36am, a week after a deadly quake, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck central Italy last Wednesday, causing several hundred deaths and flattened three towns in central Italy. (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press An excavator piles rubble as the bell tower of Amatrice stands in the background, in Amatrice, central Italy, at the same time, 3.36am, a week after a deadly quake, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck central Italy last Wednesday, causing several hundred deaths and flattened three towns in central Italy. (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)

ROME — Italy began looking to the future Wednesday a week after an earthquake flattened three towns, with Premier Matteo Renzi tapping a reconstruction czar to oversee the rebuilding and investigators acquiring the first documentation into the construction blamed for the high death toll.

Another body was extracted from the rubble of Amatrice's Hotel Roma and a 23-year-old student who was injured died at the hospital, bringing the death toll close to 300 given a handful of people are still missing, the ANSA news agency reported.

A 3.8-magnitude aftershock hit the quake zone on Wednesday, reportedly damaging a building in Norcia. It was one of more than 3,200 post-quake aftershocks that have rattled residents, some 4,000 of whom remain homeless.

Renzi announced he would formally nominate Vasco Errani to be reconstruction czar on Thursday. Errani had been president of the Emilio Romagna region in 2012 when two quakes — nine days apart — collapsed factories, homes and buildings in one of Italy's most productive regions.

Renzi said Emilio Romagna is now standing thanks to the reconstruction effort and that "we're choosing the same team" to rebuild quake-devastated Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata and their surrounding hamlets.

He spoke at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who announced that Germany would fund the construction of a school in the quake zone. Merkel also greeted rescue crews and shook the paw of Leo the black Labrador, who helped locate a 4-year-old survivor, Giorgia, in the rubble.

Merkel said the location of the German-donated school hadn't been decided, but Amatrice's elementary school crumbled in the Aug. 24 temblor despite having been restored with public funds designated for anti-seismic improvements.

On Wednesday, firefighters conducted a preliminary search of the ruins of the school and financial police began collecting documentation from municipal offices about contracts for renovations of quake-destroyed public buildings, the school included.

"The question is this: We have to understand if the contract was executed, how the contract for the anti-seismic improvements was executed, and the possible reasons for why these improvements might not have been done," Raffaele Cantone, Italy's anti-corruption czar, told state-run RAI.

Rieti chief prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva, who is heading up the investigation, said it was too early to speak about any possible suspects.

On Wednesday, the construction firm that carried out the school renovations, Edil Quality, turned over to prosecutors a thick dossier of about 20 documents concerning the works, according to officials at the Rome office of attorney Massimo Biffa. The head of Edil Quality, Gianfranco Truffarelli, has told Italian media that the city of Amatrice never contracted it to bring the school up to anti-seismic standards, just to perform improvements.

Both Merkel and Renzi were asked if Italy would seek budget flexibility from the EU in providing public funds for anti-seismic prevention efforts. Merkel said it was up to Renzi to come up with a transparent proposal.

"I think in Europe we will find a solution," she said.

But Renzi said the priority was to simply spend well the money that Italy already has, a veiled reference to Italy's long-standing failure to secure its buildings against earthquakes. Renzi has proposed a new long-term, national program to improve the safety of buildings in Italy, which has Western Europe's highest seismic risk.

"Given that we're great at emergency response, given that we're great at being generous, let us also become leaders in prevention," Renzi said. "It doesn't require infinite resources. It requires a change of mentality."

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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