L'AQUILA, Italy - Italy held a state funeral on Friday for victims of its worst earthquake in three decades, as the death toll climbed to 289 and survivors voiced anger that houses simply collapsed.

Thousands of mourners prayed before 205 coffins covered by flowers and photos of the dead, laid out on the parade ground of a police academy in the mountain city of L'Aquila, the worst hit by Monday's 6.3 magnitude quake, before being taken for burial.

Small white caskets with the bodies of children lay on their parents' coffins, some with a favorite toy placed on top. The youngest was a five-month-old boy, killed with his mother.

These dead will always be with us, each one of them. The children, the students, all of them, said 59-year-old mourner Daniela. I'm filled with pain but we must remain hopeful. We're a strong people here, I've seen lots of courage and solidarity.

Piero Faro, who came to pay his respects to family friend Paola Pugliesi, 65, who died with her son Giuseppe, 45, said the sadness was mixed with a lot of anger. Their building simply disintegrated. This should not have happened.

Some mourners kissed and hugged coffins during a Catholic mass led by the second highest priest in the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appeared emotional as he offered comfort to bereaved relatives.

I feel spiritually present in your midst and share your anguish, said a message read out from Pope Benedict.

Flags flew at half mast on a national day of mourning, shops lowered shutters, airports stopped take-offs for a minute's silence and traffic wardens removed their bright jackets.

I feel bitter inside for the people crying for 300 dead so we have closed the shop for them, for what it's worth, said Rome shopkeeper Augusto Costa.


Five days after the earthquake, rescuers were still sifting through the rubble. A 53-year-old woman and her teenage daughter were found dead in the wreckage of their home overnight.

But the Civil Protection agency said the search was almost over. Firefighters accompanied some people into their homes to retrieve personal items as police guarded against looters.

Violent aftershocks, some felt in nearby Rome, continued to shake Abruzzo region overnight, terrifying 17,000 people living in tent villages. Thousands more are being put up in hotels.

Beneath the rubble can be felt the wish to start over, rebuild and dream once more, said Cardinal Bertoni, voicing the hope of rebirth which Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday.

But some survivors did not find much comfort in religion.

Now the professionals of prayer are praying, saying mass. Everybody prays: popes, arch popes, bishops, archbishops, excellencies, eminences, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and yet Jesus Christ sends us an earthquake, said Francesco Pagani, an aged survivor sitting in one of the emergency camps.

Attention is now starting to turn to the reconstruction of a region that relies on tourism, farming and family firms. More than half the companies in Abruzzo have been put out of action.

I've lost so many friends. My house is ruined, the business I ran after years of sacrifice has collapsed, said mechanic Guido Pietropaoli, now living in a tent with his pregnant partner. I really hope they help us.

One estimate put the damage at up to 3 billion euros ($4 billion), but its impact on Italy's nearly 2-trillion-euro economy, already mired in recession, is expected to be limited.

The government has announced an enquiry into the tragedy after President Giorgio Napolitano said shoddy construction may be behind the collapse of modern buildings, including a hospital and student hostel, that should have been earthquake-proof.

People need to search their consciences, he said.