Monday's quake - the worst to hit the central Abruzzo region in 30 years - also injured 1,200 people and left about 28,000 people homeless, many now sheltering in 31 tent cities.

'Weekend camping'

IN DEPTH


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On a visit to one such tent city, Berlusconi said "nothing is missing" for the displaced survivors.

"There are medics and medicines, hot meals. And there is shelter for the night... This must be considered as weekend camping," he said.

He also suggested survivors head for hotels by the seaside half an hour away where the government would pay for rooms for them.

Rina Gagliardi, a former senator of the Refoundation Communist party, criticised the prime minister's remarks, saying he was "a completely insensitive man who thinks wisecracks can solve every problem".

But Berlusconi dismissed the criticism, saying he did not think his comments were "out of place".

Temporary shelters and tent cities have sprung up all around L'Aquila [AFP]
"I think that children yesterday needed to be pushed toward a smile, toward optimism and games.

"We have doctors who use clown therapy, and I think this is what has to be done in order to avoid a pessimistic atmosphere, negativity, sickness and death in these camps where people are obliged to stay," he said, adding: "Anyway, we have invited and we keep on inviting these people to use the free hotels."

Life did not appear so rosy for many of the survivors, however, as many spent another day lining up for food and water at the tent cities.

Survivors have begun burying the dead and officials declared Friday a national day of mourning with plans to hold a funeral mass in an outdoor square at a police training school in L'Aquila.

Fading hopes

Roberto Maroni, the Italian interior minister, said search teams would continue looking for survivors until Sunday.

Hopes of finding people alive in the rubble are fading [Nazanine Moshiri]
But hopes of finding people alive were fading.

"We'll keep digging until we've found everyone - dead or alive," Luca Signorile, a rescue worker, said.

Earlier Berlusconi said he would try to access hundreds of millions of euros in EU disaster funds to rebuild the region within two years.

In a first estimate, the government said $1.7bn would be needed to repair or rebuild about 10,000 buildings damaged or destroyed in the quake.

Donations poured in on Wednesday to special bank accounts set up to help the survivors.

The Italian senate's 315 members also decided to have $1,323 deducted from their salaries for the cause.

And Italian football teams pledged revenue from this weekend's matches, while universities and newspapers took collections.