ASCOLI PICENO, Italy >> A young man wept over a little girl’s small white coffin, while a woman nearby gently stroked another white coffin ahead of a state funeral in Italy for some of the victims of the devastating earthquake that struck a central mountainous area this week.
As Italy observed a day of national mourning, with flags flying at half-staff, those hit hardest by the tragedy expressed their grief.
Everywhere people hugged and cried as they stood amid more than 30 coffins laid out in a community gym in Ascoli Piceno, scene of the state funeral in the presence of President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Matteo Renzi.
“It is a great tragedy. There are no words to describe it,” said Gina Razzetti, a town resident who joined hundreds of local people for the funeral. “Each one of us has our pain inside. We are thinking about the families who lost relatives, who lost their homes, who lost everything.”
The two children being mourned were an 18-month girl, Marisol, and 9-year-old Giulia, whose sister was miraculously pulled from the rubble after being buried for many hours. The surviving child, Giorgia, turned 4 Saturday.
Many children and elderly people were killed. Some of the older residents had grandchildren visiting in the last days of summer.
The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. on Wednesday and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy. At least 290 people were killed, but the death toll could rise as recovery efforts continue. Several people are still unaccounted for.
“The melancholy grabs on to your heart, you feel a sense of weakness, of depression,” said Fiore Ciotto, a resident of Ascoli Piceno who arrived for the funeral. “An event like this weakens you physically and mentally.”
Funerals for some victims took place on Friday, while those for many others are expected in the coming days.
Ahead of the funeral, the president visited Amatrice, where 230 people died. There were also 11 deaths in nearby Accumoli and 49 in Arquata del Tronto, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Amatrice.
Mattarella arrived by helicopter at the edge of Amatrice, a once-picturesque stone town, and was shown the extent of the damage by the mayor, Sergio Pirozzi. The president 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 and severity of the damage, he could survey the town only at a distance because it was too dangerous to enter the sealed-off town center.
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.
The Italian institute and other authorities say that the ground below Accumoli sank 20 centimeters (8 inches) due to the earthquake, according to satellite images.
Many of the people left homeless have been spending their nights in tent cities where volunteers have been working to provide basic amenities.