Image: Man sits in rubble in Onna, Italy
Alessandra Tarantino  /  AP
A resident of Onna, Italy, sits in the rubble Tuesday. Monday's earthquake turned a picturesque, close-knit community into a ghost town populated by a few numbed survivors.
updated 4/7/2009 3:02:46 PM ET 2009-04-07T19:02:46

In this tiny village where hardly anyone lives, barely anything is left standing.

Italy's deadly earthquake crushed people as they slept, killing 40 of the hamlet's 300 inhabitants and forcing the survivors to join a stream of 50,000 homeless in the region. It turned a picturesque, close-knit community into a saddened town populated by a few numbed survivors.

Some stumbled around, dazed, carrying a few prized possessions. Others wept or stared at heart-wrenching items jutting out of a pile of rubble three stories high: a child's shattered guitar, a little girl's play stroller — and a bloodstained mattress.

"It's so awful," Maria Rita Colaianni, 34, said Tuesday, clutching a gold-embossed vase she recovered from the wreckage of her pancaked home in Onna, 80 miles northeast of Rome in the heart of the quake zone.

"It seems like all the young people are the ones who died," said Colaianni, who — together with her parents and a brother — escaped with their lives. Her next-door neighbors all died, including a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old.

Rescue workers used cranes, bulldozers and their bare hands in a desperate search for survivors, and military transport helicopters thundered overhead, ferrying in fresh help and supplies.

'Ninety percent ... just crumbled'
But Maj. Cristina Di Tommaso of Italy's civil protection service, coordinating the effort in Onna, said there was little hope of finding anyone alive in the towering heaps of jagged concrete and twisted steel.

"Ninety percent of Onna just crumbled," she told The Associated Press.

Di Tommaso said efforts to determine how many villagers remain unaccounted for were complicated by authorities' discovery that an undetermined number of undocumented immigrants were staying in Onna when the quake struck early Monday.

Officials were still trying to find out where the migrants came from. Most of Italy's illegal immigrants are from Romania, northern Africa or the former Yugoslavia.

Villagers said many of Onna's younger teens were on a class trip to France when the quake hit. Some, they said, would be returning as orphans.

"It's hard because we know everyone, and we know every family lost at least two people: a brother or a cousin," said Martina Chiaravalle, 16, wandering a field looking for classmates among the blue canvas tents set up to house rescue workers and survivors.

On the road to Onna — which links the village to L'Aquila, a hard-hit city where victims were trapped in the wreckage of a university dormitory — quake refugees prepared to spend another chilly night in their cars. Some carried plastic buckets stuffed with loaves of bread, and still wore the same pajamas they had fled in 24 hours earlier.

Others pitched tents on the grass outside their homes, fearing one of the strong aftershocks that shook the area might bring the houses down on them if they dared venture inside.

Image: Woman searches flattened car
Sandro Perozzi  /  AP
A woman in Onna tries to recover belongings Tuesday from her flattened Fiat 600.
Thousands more were making their way to Abruzzo's seaside, where hotel owners have made 6,500 hotel beds available to the newly homeless, said Emilio Shirato, president of Abruzzo's hotel association. Already, some 4,000 beds have been occupied with rescue workers still coordinating the arrival of more survivors.

"The offers of beds were completely spontaneous and decided by the hoteliers themselves in the desire to be close to their fellow Abruzzesi," Shirato said.

Many tried to return home during the day to retrieve belongings where possible, according to several hoteliers reached in the coastal town of Pescara. "They are a little traumatized," said Vicenzo Traversa, business manager of the Hotel Ambra, which took in 47 people, all families.

Onna's fieldstone church lay in ruins. So did others in neighboring towns, their statues of Jesus and Mary tilted at odd angles and their altars dusted with a layer of grit — reminders in this devoutly Roman Catholic country that an act of God struck at the start of Holy Week.

Man lost 15 relatives
Virgilio Colajanni, a 70-year-old retiree, choked back tears as his daughter-in-law cooked pasta over a gas stove in the family's cinderblock shelter.

"We lost 15 members of our family. Babies and children died," said Colajanni, recounting how the electricity cut out when the quake hit, forcing him to feel his way to the front door and safety.

Colajanni said he always loved living in Onna, a humble, honest place to raise a family.

"But now, this place will always remind me of death, not life," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Italy in mourning

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  1. Mourners attend the state funeral ceremony for earthquake victims, in L'Aquila, on Friday, April 10. The earthquake on Monday was the deadliest to hit Italy in almost 30 years. Four days after the quake that made L'Aquila and nearby towns and villages uninhabitable, the death toll reached 287, including at least 20 children. (Peri - Percossi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi reacts as he attends the funerals for quake victims near L'Aquila, central Italy, on Friday. (Luca Bruno / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A woman and her son leave a rose during the state funeral ceremony for eathquake victims near L'Aquila, on Friday. (Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Relatives mourn the victims of the earthquake during the collective funeral at the Guardia di Finanza Academy, in Coppito, a village near L'Aquila, Italy, on Friday, which was declared day of national mourning in Italy. (Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A man walks through rubble in L'Aquila, Italy. (Maurizio Degl'innocenti / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A woman reacts in a tent camp where earthquake victims reside in Aquila. A series of aftershocks disrupted rescuers on Thursday as they picked through rubble in a search for survivors of Monday's earthquake in central Italy. (Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mario Tudisco, a volunteer clown, gives a chocolate Easter egg to a child who was evacuated following the earthquake, in the Abruzzo capital L'Aquila. (Andreas Solaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The coffin of earthquake victim Carmelina Iovine, 22, is carried during her funeral in the Italian town of Raiano. (Daniele La Monaca / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Friends and relatives grieve during the funeral of earthquake victim Carmelina Iovine, 22, in the Italian town of Raiano. (Daniele La Monaca / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Silvio Berlusconi, wearing a firefighter's helmet, comforts an elderly woman in L'Aquila, central Italy. (Livio Anticoli / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Firefighter Roberto Contu of the Rome's S.A.F team inspects the damaged Duomo church downtown Aquila April 8, 2009. The earthquake in central Italy on Monday has badly damaged several historic churches and other heritage sites, the Culture Ministry said. At least four Romanesque and Renaissance churches and a 16th century castle were partially destroyed by the quake centred in the medieval city of L'Aquila. (Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A woman holds her child in the tent camp of L'Aquila, central Italy, on Wednesday, as strong aftershocks caused further fear among residents in temporary shelters. As rescue teams continued searching through the debris for survivors, the homeless emerged from their tents after spending a second night in chilly mountain temperatures. (Luca Bruno / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Most of the village of Onna, Italy, lay in ruins on Tuesday. Forty of the town's 300 residents died in Monday's quake. (Max Rossi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A crane lowers a rescue worker looking for survivors inside a building in L'Aquila on Tuesday. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rescuers search the debris of a building in L'Aquila on Tuesday. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A firefighter cries after finding his dead stepdaughter in the rubble of a collapsed building in L'Aquila. (Giampiero Sposito / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Some of the people who were evacuated after the earthquake spent the night in a gym at L'Aquila's recreation center. (Mario Laporta / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Tent cities were set up around the quake zone, including this one in the village of Paganica. (Sandro Perozzi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A woman, still alive 20 hours after an earthquake, is carried by rescue volunteers in the Abruzzo capital L'aquila, Italy. Rescuers scrambled in the dark to find survivors from the powerful earthquake in central Italy that killed at least 150 people, as thousands of homeless sought shelter in hastily built tent cities. (Giulio Piscitelli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Rescuers with a sniffer dog search for survivors Monday in the village of Castelnuovo, Italy, one of two dozen communities devastated by the quake. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. People evacuated from their home in L'Aquila protect themselves from the rain with a blanket. The city was the hardest hit, with thousands of buildings torn apart and dozens killed. (Mario Laporta / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A nun among the homeless joins other evacuees at an outdoor shelter in L'Aquila. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. People line up for food at an outdoor shelter in L'Aquila as darkness approached. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. These are among the thousands of homes destroyed in L'Aquila by the earthquake that left tens of thousands homeless. (Guardia Forestale via AP / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A child is comforted by a Red Cross rescuer at a camp set up just outside L'Aquila. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. The Anime Sante church in L'Aquila was among the historic treasures damaged or destroyed in the quake. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Rescue workers remove an injured woman from her home in the small town of Onna. (Massimiliano Schiazza / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A car is buried in rubble in the Onna. Most of the town's homes were destroyed, and its residents made homeless. (Massimiliano Schiazza / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's Civil Protection agency, discuss the tragedy at a command center in L'Aquila. (Livio Anticoli / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Residents across central Italy, including these elderly women in L'Aquila, stayed outside Monday, fearing more building collapses. (Grillo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Two men console one another Monday whlie others prepare to comb debris for potential survivors in L'Aquila. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rescue workers carry the body of a nun found in the rubble of a collapsed monastery in Paganica, Italy. (Giampiero Sposito / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Residents of L'Aquila comfort one another after the quake destroyed much of the city. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A doctor unpacks a rescue kit next to a collapsed building and buried vehicle in the center of L'Aquila. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A car is seen precariously close to a large hole in a road caused by the earthquake in L'Aquila on Monday. (Peri - Percossi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Rescue workers carry an injured man away from his house in L'Aquila. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Workers remove debris on Monday in the center L'Aquila. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Luigi d'Andrea, 20, collects belongings from the debris of an apartment in L'Aquila . (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A police officer stands in the center of L'Aquila on Monday. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A firefighter comforts a colleague near a collapsed building in L'Aquila on Monday. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Patients are treated outside the St. Salvatore Hospital in L'Aquila. Parts of the hospital were evacuated because it was at risk of collapse, forcing the wounded to be treated in the open air or taken elsewhere. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Blanketed against the morning cold, a couple stand amid rubble in the center of L'Aquila. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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