"I want to find our two cats and pick up some clothes," Riccardo Copersini, a resident, said. "Anything else would be extra."

Vincenzo Rizi, an engineering professor at L'Aquila's university, said: "We all need to rebuild our lives."

Construction probe

Engineers have begun assessing the damage to the estimated 10,000 buildings hit by the earthquake, and the European Commission said construction experts will arrive in the region early next week.

"It's really a difficult situation. It will take a long time," Gennaro Tornatore, a fire service chief co-ordinating rescue, said.

L'Aquila's chief prosecutor said homes would be examined for signs of poor construction [EPA]
 
"We're trying to get the situation under control. We've got 125 firefighters working on it."

L'Aquila's chief prosecutor announced an investigation into allegations of shoddy construction on Saturday.

"We have the duty to verify whether some buildings were really constructed out of sand, as has been indicated from several sources, or in other cases without steel," he said in the daily La Repubblica.

Muted celebration

Strong aftershocks continued to jolt the region, where some 40,000 people have lost their homes.

Italy's space agency, comparing satellite radar images taken before and after the earthquake, said on Saturday that the earth in the region of L'Aquila had shifted by up to 15cm.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, was set to attend an Easter mass in L'Aquila on Sunday, and other masses were planned in the many tent camps set up in and around the city.

Easter Sunday, the most joyous day on the Christian calendar, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion.

At a mass funeral for the victims on Friday, Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, told survivors that Easter Sunday would "once again be a rebirth from the rubble for a people who have already suffered so many times".

But at one of the tent camps near L'Aquila, 70-year-old Anna Parisse said she was not looking forward to the holiday in the current situation.

"Unfortunately, we're going to have to celebrate Easter here. It's not going to be the same. I want to be at home with my family," she said.