Berlusconi said the search for people still missing in the rubble would continue for another 48 hours, but the focus of the operation was shifting to looking after those who had survived.

'Camping weekend'

Aftershocks, which lasted until Wednesday, have hampered the rescue mission.

IN DEPTH


 Gallery: Quake rocks Italy
 World offers sympathy
 Video: Quake toll rises

Berlusconi also possibly added to the survivors' distress by telling them they should consider themselves on a "camping weekend".

He said the thousands of people made homeless "have everything they need, they have medical care, hot food".

"Of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary, but they should see it like a weekend of camping" he said on Wednesday.

Rina Gagliardi, a former senator of the Refoundation Communist Party, criticised the prime minister's comments, saying:" He is a completely insensitive man who thinks wisecracks can solve every problem".

Berlusconi has sent troops to the area, set up 20 tent camps and 16 field kitchens, but has so far refused international aid.

The strongest aftershock toppled buildings in the historic mountainous city in the Abruzzo region, including parts of a church, leaving more than 1,000 people injured.

L'Aquila's mayor said the 5.6 magnitude aftershock killed one resident and was felt 100km away in Rome.

Berlusconi said he would seek EU disaster funds to try to rebuild the area in two years [AFP]
The prime minister, whose government already faces a huge public debt, said he would try to access hundreds of millions of euros in EU disaster funds to rebuild the region within two years.

Italian soccer teams pledged revenue from this weekend's matches, while universities and newspapers took collections. Hotels provided cheap rooms for survivors and rescuers.

Some residents and experts expressed anger 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.

Funerals begin

Bodies are being stored in a makeshift mortuary at a school for Italy's finance police outside L'Aquila, local media said, and the first funeral is due to take place later in the day in Loreto Aprutino.

Many of the victims were students at L'Aquila's university.

Monday's quake was particularly deadly because it hit shortly after 3:30am (01:30 GMT) as residents slept.

Flattening houses, centuries-old churches and other buildings in 26 cities and towns, it was the worst earthquake since November 1980, when 2,735 people died in southern Italy.