L'AQUILA, Italy - Strong aftershocks shook central Italy on Tuesday and hampered rescue efforts after the country's worst earthquake in three decades killed at least 228 people and left thousands homeless.

The strongest aftershock since Monday's quake scattered rescue workers and toppled buildings, including parts of the basilica and the station, as night fell on the historic mountain city of L'Aquila, which bore the brunt of the disaster.

L'Aquila's mayor said one person died in the neighborhood of Roio, but firefighters could not confirm this. The 5.6 magnitude aftershock was felt in Rome, 100 km (60 miles) to the west, where furniture shook in the upper floors of buildings.

We advise people not to go back into their homes, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a news conference in L'Aquila, adding that efforts to find people alive would go on for at least two more days.

Hundreds of emergency workers, many of them volunteers, used mechanical diggers and their bare hands to remove piles of rubble. Rescuers celebrated after a 20-year-old girl was found alive 42 hours after the quake under the rubble of a four-storey building, but the death toll rose steadily throughout the day.

A fireman from the port of Pescara who had come to L'Aquila to help rescue efforts collapsed in tears after unearthing the body of his stepdaughter, who was studying at the university.

At least 228 bodies were being stored in a makeshift mortuary at a school for Italy's Finance Police outside L'Aquila, local media reported. Some 1,500 people were injured, about 100 seriously, and fewer than 50 were missing.

Working by floodlight, rescuers used a crane to gradually dismantle a ruined university dormitory in the hope of finding four students trapped inside. Sniffer dogs aided the hunt.

We're trying to get in through every hole possible, but we haven't succeeded in reaching them, said a police official.


As night fell for a second time since the disaster, thousands of homeless people sought shelter in villages of blue tents set up by authorities. Berlusconi, who has declared a national emergency and sent troops to the area, promised 20 tent camps and 16 field kitchens to accommodate 14,000 people.

Authorities estimate 17,000 people have lost their homes, leaving them facing a grim Easter weekend. With many local churches badly damaged, people prepared to celebrate the feast in makeshift chapels in the tent villages.

The aftershocks sowed panic, with residents running out of tents screaming and crying.

Even here, where you know that nothing can happen you still feel afraid. The fear of the sound, the earth moving, it just makes you feel so small, said Ilaria Ciani, 35. In the last two nights I must have slept about three hours at most.

With his government already facing a high deficit and huge public debt, Berlusconi said he would try to access hundreds of millions of euros in EU disaster funds to help rebuild the rugged Abruzzo region of central Italy.

Shows of solidarity came from home and abroad, with US President Barack Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin among the leaders calling Berlusconi to express sympathy and offer aid.

Italian soccer teams said revenue from this weekend's matches would be sent to help victims. Universities and newspapers throughout the country took collections, while hotels provided thousands of cheap rooms for survivors and rescuers.

Officials said the quake would severely affect the region's economy, much of which is based on tourism, agriculture and small, family-run businesses. Police increased their patrols on the streets amid reports of looting.

Some residents and experts expressed anger that even supposedly earthquake-proof modern buildings had collapsed.

In California, an earthquake like this one would not have killed a single person, said Franco Barberi, head of a committee assessing quake risks at the Civil Protection Agency.

Monday's quake was particularly lethal because it struck shortly after 3:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. EDT) as residents slept. Flattening houses, centuries-old churches and other buildings in 26 cities and towns, it was the worst since November 1980, when some 2,735 people died in southern Italy.