Fresh aftershocks caused panic in Italy's earthquake zone Thursday, terrifying the thousands of homeless victims trying to sleep in crowded tent camps as the death toll reached 275.
Quake survivors and volunteers watch a news programme on a television set placed on the ground, as a journalist waits for a live broadcast at the entrance of Onna, on April 9, 2009. (AFP Photo)
Two lifeless bodies were pulled from the ruins of a student dormitory in the centre of the Abruzzo capital L'Aquila early in the morning after a night punctuated by three powerful aftershocks.
Hundreds of people could be spotted sleeping in their cars, and soldiers were in their trucks with the engines running as the early spring temperature hovered around five degrees Celsius (40 Fahrenheit).
Monday's quake has claimed 275 lives according to the latest toll reported by Italian television, with between 20 and 30 people still missing and 179 of the injured in a serious condition, according to police.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the search for survivors would be extended by two days to Sunday, though hopes were fading fast and aftershocks were complicating efforts by destabilising the search-and-rescue sites.
The strongest overnight aftershock, coming just before 3:00 am (0100 GMT), registered 5.2 on the Richter scale and was felt as far away as Rome, a two-hour drive to the southwest.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was expected in the devastated city later in the day, after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made three visits to the region in as many days.
Berlusconi's government has estimated three billion euros (four billion dollars) will be needed to repair or rebuild some 10,000 buildings damaged in the quake.
The first funerals were held Wednesday as plans were announced for a national memorial service for those who lost their lives in the disaster.
Vatican number two Tarcisio Bertone was to lead the observance on Friday, which has been declared a national day of mourning, in a suburb of the Abruzzo capital L'Aquila where most of the bodies are lying in a hangar at a police barracks.
Thousands attended the funeral of 25-year-old student Danilo Ciolli in his hometown in the neighbouring province of Molise, the ANSA news agency reported.
Giuseppe Chiavaroli, who was 24 and played minor league football, was also laid to rest, in Pescara province on the Adriatic coast to the east.
Berlusconi said 31 tent cities and 24 field kitchens had been set up and 14 roving medical units deployed, while raising the estimate of homeless to 28,000 from a previous figure of 17,000.
Nearly 18,000 people were sheltered in some 3,000 tents at the camps dotted around L'Aquila, he said.
Some 7,000 police, soldiers and other emergency service personnel and volunteers were taking part in the earthquake operation, including psychologists offering grief and trauma counselling.
Outside the area's main hospital -- condemned and evacuated because of damage from the quake -- doctors performed more than 280 operations in less than 36 hours, an official told AFP.
The most serious involved cranial, pelvic and chest fractures as well as internal bleeding, heart problems and epileptic seizures, Mario Caroli said.
Donations poured in Wednesday in special bank accounts set up to help the survivors and the Italian Senate's 315 members decided to have 1,000 euros deducted from their salaries for the cause.
Speaking just days before Christians mark their Easter holiday, Pope Benedict XVI said he would visit the disaster zone "as soon as possible" but a Vatican spokesman told AFP that such a visit would not take place within the next fortnight.