Renzi to present national plan to strengthen Italy's quake defenses

August 29, 2016 11:06 AM EDT

Coffins of some of the victims of the earthquake in central Italy are seen inside a gym in Ascoli Piceno, August 26, 2016. REUTERS/Adamo Di Loreto

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By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised on Monday to present a national plan to make Italy safer against earthquakes as rescuers continued to search for bodies after last week's quake that killed at least 292 people.

Renzi said Italy needed a "change of mentality" and he would present a project dubbed "Italy's House" in the coming days and seek the involvement of politicians, trade unions, technical experts and building companies.

He said the country would spend as much as required for the envisaged plan, which will include making structures earthquake-proof, energy efficiency measures and land reclamation, though without specifying an amount.

"To Europe, we say that we will spend whatever it takes," said Renzi, speaking in an interview to national broadcaster Rai later in the day.

He stressed that in the reconstruction effort "timings (will) have to be clear and the supervision on how money is spent must be efficient" and said his government would appoint a special commissioner by the end of the week.

"What has often been lacking in the past is the construction of a plan for the whole country based on prevention," Renzi wrote in a newsletter to his supporters earlier in the day.

He said he had already discussed the new plan with Italian architect Renzo Piano who told him it may take two generations - or around 50 years - to bring Italy up to the best international safety standards.

"But the fact that it's a long-term project isn't a good reason not to start immediately," Renzi said.


Italy has suffered 36 earthquakes with a magnitude of 5 and above since 1900, almost every one bringing death, destruction and recriminations about why successive governments have not done more to defend Italians' lives and heritage.

Prosecutors are investigating why supposedly quake-proofed buildings collapsed in the Aug. 24 tremors in one of the world's most seismically active countries.

It remains to be seen whether Renzi's plans will have more success than in the past. Italy has one of the world's largest public debts and with a virtually stagnant economy it will struggle to find the funds for costly civil defense programs.

Renzi's own future is also in doubt. He faces a referendum in the autumn on a strongly contested plan for constitutional reform, and has said he will step down if he loses.

He promised to rebuild Amatrice and the other mountain communities in central Italy shattered in the latest quake, saying his government would "ensure that these places with such a precious past will also have a future."

Reconstruction efforts following a 2009 quake which killed more than 300 people in the nearby city of L'Aquila have been hampered by red-tape and corruption, and only a tiny part of the town center has been rebuilt.

Aftershocks continued on Monday, five days after the first quake. Geologists say there have been more than 2,000 since the original magnitude 6.2 earthquake.

"Here the ground doesn't stop shaking, I don't know, I have the impression a huge rift will open and we will all fall in it," said Roberto De Cesaris, a resident in Amatrice.

A large state funeral is scheduled to take place in Amatrice on Tuesday for many of the more than 240 people who died in the town. State funerals for 35 of the victims were celebrated on Saturday in the town of Ascoli Piceno.

(Additional reporting by Iona Serrapica and Giulia Segreti; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Alison Williams)

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