L'AQUILA, Italy - Italy prepared on Wednesday to begin burying some of the 250 people killed in medieval towns flattened by a quake, while rescuers hampered by aftershocks hunted for people buried alive in the rubble.

A mass state funeral for the victims and a national day of mourning are expected to be held on Friday, Italian officials said, although the first private service was due on Wednesday.

The death toll climbed overnight to 250 when rescuers pulled out 15 more bodies from the rubble. In Rome, Pope Benedict again prayed for the victims and said he would visit the area soon.

With about 17,000 people made homeless by the quake, Italy's worst in three decades, thousands of distraught people passed a fitful night in tent villages, terrified by strong aftershocks felt in mountainous Abruzzo and nearby Rome.

The strongest aftershock on Tuesday night toppled parts of the basilica and the station in the historic city of L'Aquila, which bore the brunt of the disaster. The 5.6 magnitude tremor killed one person and was felt in Rome, 100 km (60 miles) west.

We're in shock because we have lost our loved ones, the town has been reduced to rubble with over 40 dead and lots of them were young, a whole generation canceled out, said Antonella Massi in Onna, a village that once had 300 residents and was left with hardly a building untouched by the quake.

Some 20 tent camps and 16 field kitchens to house and feed 14,000 people were set up after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a national emergency and sent troops to the area.

One estimate for insurers put the damage to Italy's economy, which is already reeling from the worst recession since World War Two, at between 2 billion and 3 billion euros (between $1.5 billion and $2.2 billion), in the context of overall economic output for Italy of about 1.5 trillion euros.

Berlusconi, turning down most foreign aid offers, has taken a typically hands-on approach, traveling to the disaster zone every day so far and promising survivors rapid help. Pollsters say this could further boost his already high popularity rating.

But the gaffe-prone premier risked appearing insensitive when he told one German television channel that the thousands of people living in tents should look on it as a camping weekend.


Officials say the quake will have a huge impact in a region which mostly lives off tourism, farming and family businesses.

Berlusconi vowed to build a whole new town near L'Aquila and Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia, visiting Onna, urged Italians to help the region's economy by thinking of them when the holiday season begins and principally buying products from Abruzzo.

The survivors face a grim Easter weekend. With many local churches badly damaged, people prepared to celebrate the feast in makeshift chapels in the tent villages.

The government and hotel owners offered free shelter for the homeless in hotels on the Adriatic coast.

Go to the coast. It's Easter, take a break and we will pay for it, Berlusconi told victims at a tent camp on Tuesday.

At least 250 bodies were being stored in a makeshift mortuary outside L'Aquila.

On Tuesday night rescuers burst into applause when a 20-year-old woman was found alive 42 hours after the quake in the ruins of a four-storey building.

A rescue like this is worth six months' work, said Claudio, a fire-fighter from Venice.

Many of the victims were students at L'Aquila's university, such as 24-year-old student and soccer player Giuseppe Chiavaroli, due to be buried on Wednesday in his hometown.

One fire-fighter from the port of Pescara who came to help rescue efforts collapsed in tears after unearthing the body of his stepdaughter, who was studying there.

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

Police increased their patrols on the streets amid reports of looting of homes and shops. Some residents and experts said they were angry 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. (0130 GMT) 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.