Italian president visits quake town, thanks rescue workers

The side of a building is collapsed following an earthquake, in Amatrice Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)

ASCOLI PICENO, Italy (AP) — Italian President Sergio Mattarella paid a visit on Saturday to Amatrice, a town devastated in the earthquake that hit central Italy this week and the place with the highest death toll.

The visit comes as Italy observes a day of national mourning for the 284 victims of the earthquake. Mattarella will also attend a state funeral in the town of Ascoli Piceno along with Premier Matteo Renzi for some of the victims.

Mattarella arrived by helicopter to the edge of Amatrice and was guided around by the mayor, Sergio Pirozzi, who showed him the extent of the damage. Mattarella also met and thanked rescue workers, who have been working since early Wednesday to save people trapped in rubble and recover the dead.

Due to the vast extent of the damage, the president could survey the town only from the outside, because it is too dangerous to enter the sealed-off town center, a once-picturesque stone town.

The death rose to 284 after three more bodies were recovered overnight from the rubble of Amatrice. With several more people still unaccounted for it was expected that the death toll could rise further.

Overnight, residents of the area were rattled yet again by a series of aftershocks. The strongest, at 4:50 a.m., had a magnitude of 4.2, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, while the Italian geophysics institute measured it at 4.

Ahead of the funeral, caskets were lined up in a gym where mourners have been bidding farewell to loved ones, kneeling, crying and placing their hands on flower-covered caskets.

Most of the deaths occurred in Amatrice, where 224 people died. There were 11 deaths in nearby Accumoli and 49 in Arquata del Tronto, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Amatrice.

Italian scientific authorities say that satellite images show that the ground below Accumoli sank 20 centimeters (8 inches) due to the earthquake.

Many of the people left homeless have been spending their nights in tent cities where volunteers have been working to provide basic amenities.

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Gera reported from Rome. This story has been corrected to reflect that the president’s first name is Sergio, not Giorgio.

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