Italy earthquake: 'They were all killed in their sleep'

Quake survivors in Amatrice, 26 August 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption Survivors have been surveying the damage in Amatrice - where more than 200 people died

Stories of survival are continuing to emerge from residents of the worst-affected areas following Wednesday's devastating Italian earthquake.

The towns of Amatrice, Arquata, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto, where many of the 268 dead and 400 injured came from, are just starting to come to terms with the tragedy.

Francesco Di Paolo, 27, from Amatrice - where more than 200 people died - describes the "shocking and traumatic" effect it has had on the close-knit community.

'They were all killed in their sleep'

"My family - my mother, my grandmother and I - managed to escaped from our flat, which is in one of the few buildings still standing in Amatrice town centre.

The rest of the town centre is destroyed. The houses on both sides of our home collapsed.

There are five families who live in our building and we all got out, luckily.

After I helped my 60-year-old mother and 90-year-old grandmother to escape, I went back to help the other families. I helped all the families to get out in the dark.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Amatrice town centre is now closed as rescuers continue to search for those missing and killed

My mother and grandmother were in shock, particularly my mother, who at first wanted to go back to bed.

It was dark when we got outside but when I switched on a torch, what confronted me was simply horrific.

A wall had fallen down on my car and the houses on either side of us had collapsed.

There were three people in one house, a mother, a daughter and her boyfriend. They were all killed in their sleep. They lived in a big, beautiful house with a lovely garden and they were buried under the rubble.

The family on the other side managed to survive, even though they fell from the second floor and their house was destroyed.

Image copyright Francesco Di Paolo
Image caption Before the disaster: Francesco's home is the white building, and the house on the left does not exist anymore

We consider ourselves lucky, very lucky.

I remember it was very quiet afterwards. Then after about 10 or 15 minutes people started coming in from the surrounding area to the centre of town looking for people, calling out and using their hands to try to find others under the rubble.

I joined in and tried to help my neighbours. I gave some blankets to people from our building. I was just wearing my T-shirt and underpants - I didn't have time to dress.

I stood on broken glass getting out of our apartment, but I'm ok.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The distinctive bell tower in Amatrice survived while buildings all around it were destroyed

I went back in to get some clothes later and went out again to try and find my friends. One friend lived in a beautiful house, but their house didn't exist any more, it was destroyed. Three of his family died there.

'I haven't slept since'

Around 200 people died in Amatrice. We all know each other. It's a small town and a close-kit community, so everybody knows people who died. Cousins, uncles, mothers, fathers. The whole town is affected.

There was a festival in the town the night before the quake struck and I know some people who were there who died, including a young girl who worked there.

Image copyright Francesco Di Paolo
Image caption Francesco's picture shows Amatrice before the quake. "Except for the red building and the bell tower, all these buildings are now destroyed," he says

I spent the whole of Wednesday helping neighbours and rescuers.

I also managed to collect some things from our home, but we can't enter the building now as it's not safe and the town is now closed off.

Our building will probably have to be destroyed as it is covered in cracks.

We have sent my grandmother to stay with friends on the coast, and my mother and I are now staying in a tented camp set up by the Red Cross.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Amatrice was among the worst-affected towns

The police, rescue services, volunteers and Red Cross have all been very good. People are trying to help each other.

I was back here for the week on holiday as I live and work near Rome - and this happened. I'm glad I was here to help my family and we are very fortunate we survived.

There are 200-300 people staying at this camp. The priority has been to find accommodation for people who survived and for the rescue services now to find the missing.

I will probably leave this camp with my mother today and go somewhere else for a couple of days, if we can.

I haven't slept since the quake and there is a lot of emotion in the camp. People have lost their houses, their friends and their families. We all know people who are dead, injured or missing.

It is a terrible, terrible thing that has happened here. A terrible tragedy.

We are the lucky ones. We are alive."

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