Mourners in Italy prayed, hugged, wept and even applauded as coffins carrying victims of the country's devastating earthquake passed by at a state funeral Saturday, grieving as one nation after three desperate days of trying to save as many people as possible. In the central town of Ascoli Piceno, they gathered to bid farewell to 35 of the 291 people confirmed dead so far after the quake that struck a swath of countryside early Wednesday at the foothills of the central Apennine mountains.
The caskets of 35 people had been brought to a community gym - one of the few structures in the area still intact and large enough to hold hundreds of mourners. The local bishop, Giovanni D'Ercole, celebrated Mass beneath a crucifix he had retrieved from one of the damaged churches in the picturesque area of medieval stone towns and hamlets.
Emotions that had been dammed up for days broke in a crescendo of grief. One young man wept over a little girl's white coffin. Another woman gently stroked another small casket. Many mourners were recovering from injuries themselves, some wrapped in bandages. Everywhere people knelt at coffins, tears running down their cheeks, their arms around loved ones. "It is a great tragedy. There are no words to describe it," said Gina Razzetti, a resident at 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."
As all of Italy observed a day of national mourning.