L'AQUILA, Italy — Earthquake survivors sought comfort amid the tragedy that leveled their cities and killed hundreds of people as they celebrated Easter Sunday Mass in makeshift chapels across central Italy.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who attended a Mass for rescue workers and volunteers in the city of L'Aquila, declared the emergency phase over, but said it would still be months before most people displaced by the quake will know if they can go back to their homes.
"Within two months we hope to certify which buildings can be inhabited and only then will we know how many citizens can return to their own homes," Berlusconi said.
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 a 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.
The Vatican donated a chalice and vestments for Mass in the village of Onna, which was nearly leveled by the quake. "Onna lost everything and didn't have anything to celebrate Holy Mass," the pope's personal bodyguard, Domenico Giani, told Vatican Radio.
Many quake survivors, however, weren't in the mood to celebrate.
Elsewhere in the main L'Aquila tent camp, people busied themselves with the routine of their improvised lives, waiting for breakfast, lining up for a shower. And in the city, people lined up 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 officially missing, but he did not rule out the possibility of finding bodies as the work of clearing the rubble continued.
One person died in the hospital on Sunday, raising the death toll to 294. Six victims were to be buried Sunday, two days after a collective funeral for more than 200 people.
Berlusconi said more than 1,000 buildings have already been checked to determine if they are safe, mostly public buildings and factories important to restarting the devastated area's economic motor. Just 152 residences have been checked.
The first school will open Thursday in a tent city in the village of Poggio Picenza, Berlusconi said. He also announced that his Cabinet would meet in L'Aquila to pass measures to aid the quake-stricken region.
Berlusconi said more than 55,000 people who were displaced by Monday's 6.3-magnitude quake had been given temporary housing: nearly 22,000 in hotels and private homes, and another 33,306 in 106 tent cities.
Agostino Miozzo, the head of the national civil protection agency, said that until people can return to their homes, "we need to make these tent cities livable. ... We need to make them less bad than they are now."
While electricity had 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 $1.35 billion EU solidarity fund. The fund was set up to help member nations recoup costs after natural disasters.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.