L'AQUILA, Italy – Earthquake survivors sought comfort from the tragedy that leveled their cities and killed hundreds among them as they gathered for Easter Sunday Mass in makeshift chapels erected throughout the quake-stricken zone of central Italy.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi arrived for Mass in L'Aquila with firefighters, many of whom had to deal with the loss of their own loved ones or property as they responded to the 6.3-magnitude temblor that killed 294 people, left some 40,000 homeless and leveled thousands of buildings.
The mood was somber as about 150 faithful — mostly elderly people — celebrated the holiest day on the Roman Catholic calendar in L'Aquila's main tent city, where the population has declined to 1,300 from a peak of 1,700 as many with means find a more comfortable place to stay.
"Easter is the day of resurrection for us too, because we are starting from zero," said quake survivor Corrado Mongelli, a 50-year-old olive oil producer. "I have huge hope for restarting and having again a life like I had before."
L'Aquila Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari, who celebrated Mass before a small statue of the Madonna and a crucifix hanging from tent wall, acknowledged their anger over the huge losses they had suffered.
"We are all a little bit angry with God because we never expected a tragedy this big. But even anger toward God is a sign of faith," the archbishop said.
Brown-robed Capuchin monks helped move out dining tables and set up rows of chairs for the tent-city Mass, while rescue workers handed out traditional dove-shaped Easter cake to survivors of Monday's devastating quake.
A traditional Easter meal of lamb was planned, and children were given large, cellophane-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs.
Elsewhere in the tent camp, people busied themselves with the routine of their improvised lives, waiting for breakfast, lining up for a shower. And throughout the city, people lined up for the chance to request that rescue workers go into their homes to fetch key documents and prized possessions.
About 700 people were brought Saturday to their residences, where they directed rescue workers which items to retrieve, L'Aquila fire chief Roberto Lupica said.
Lupica said no one else remained missing, but he did not rule out the possibility of finding further bodies as the work of clearing the rubble continued.
One person died in the hospital on Sunday, raising the death toll to 294, the news agency ANSA reported.
Agostino Miozzo, the head of the national civil protection agency, said workers were checking each and every home to see "when and if" families can return home "and resume their normal lives."
And in the meantime, he said "we need to make these tent cities livable. The tent cities are in any case a difficult place ... we need to make them less bad than they are now."
While electricity has arrived in many of the tent cities, they were still without hot water.
Germany, France, Greece, Spain and Sweden are sending a team of 10 technical experts this week to help Italian authorities assess the safety of buildings, the EU commission said.
EU officials say Italy can also draw from a euro $1.35 billion EU solidarity fund. The fund was set up to help member nations recoup costs after natural disasters.