Refugees & restaurants come to help destroyed Italian towns as death toll rises over 280

A partially collapsed church is seen in Accumoli di Rieti. © Steve Scherer
A group of African migrants that completed a perilous journey via Mediterranean to reach Italian shores have volunteered to take part in the relief efforts in one of the quake-stricken Italian villages, as the number of casualties on Friday reached 281.

About 20 migrants of African origin arrived at the village of Pescara del Tronto to help locals in overcoming the immediate consequences of the disaster. While the hope for finding people alive under the rubble has disappeared and a three-day rescue operation was pulled over, the volunteers are aiming to help survivors cope with their distress.

“We saw people losing their lives and we feel bad. It’s to show respect for them and their dignity,” one of the migrants, a 20-year-old Abdullah, told Reuters. “We need to help the people here.”

Meanwhile, a volunteer from the Alpine Rescue national service told the agency that they have “removed the last bodies that we knew about.”

The trip of the Africans to the village was organized by the Human Solidarity Group (GUS), an Italian charity, its representative Letizia Dellabarba said. She added that the initiative came from the migrants themselves, who reside in a hostel some 50 kilometers away.

READ MORE:Italy mourns quake victims as death toll climbs to 247 (PHOTOS)

“It was their idea. They wanted to do something, so we helped make it happen,” Dellabarba said. 

Clad in orange uniforms, the volunteers proceeded to clear up the ground so that the makeshift tents could be erected, in which survivors who have nowhere to go are to spend their nights. They also helped free up space for a helicopter landing site. 

At least 281 people died in the natural disaster, according to data from the civil protection service. Rescuers continue to search for survivors in Amatrice, the small old central Italian town that bore the hardest brunt with 221 people killed and hundreds injured.

“Only a miracle can bring our friends back alive from the rubble, but we are still digging because many are missing,” town mayor Sergio Pirozzi said on Friday, acknowledging that hope has faded.

READ MORE:Rubble & shock: Videos of disastrous Italian earthquake’s aftermath

The searches have been impeded by a string of aftershocks that have forced rescuers to halt the operation. On Friday, authorities have to close the bridge leading to the town on safety grounds. So far, over 1,000 aftershocks have struck central Italy since Wednesday. Some 2,500 people are believed to have lost their homes in cause of the quake.

Amatrice had been known as a birthplace of a renowned specialty of Italian cuisine – spaghetti all’amatriciana.

Over 700 Italian restaurants have teamed up and included the dish into their menus in response to the call of Paolo Campana, an Italian graphic artist.

He set up a campaign contacting Italian restaurants and urging them to give away two euros from every spaghetti all’amatriciana order to be donated to the relief fund.

The initiative was also backed up by UK chefs, with Jamie Oliver announcing that 700 chefs working in his restaurant chain would put the pasta on the menu for a month.

“It will be on the specials board tonight at Jamie’s Italian, and for the rest of the month £2 (2.65) from each dish will go straight to the International Red Cross,” he wrote. 

Some 11 people have been killed due to the quake in Accumuli and 49 in Arquata del Tronto.  

A total of 181 of the victims have been already identified, authorities said, with the youngest one being a five-month-old child. At least 21 children lost their lives in the disaster. 

To commemorate the victims of the quake, a national day of mourning will be held Saturday with the government conducting a state funeral for some 40 victims in the town of Ascoli Piceno.