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Italy toll rises to 241 as anguish mounts over quake past

Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli, where 190 were killed

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Rescue crews raced against time on Thursday looking for survivors from the earthquake that leveled three towns in central Italy, but the death toll rose to 241, revised down from 247, and Italy once again anguished over trying to secure its ancient communities built on seismic lands.

Operations chief Immacolata Postiglione said the toll was lowered from the 247 she had reported earlier Thursday due to a revision from the area of Arquata in Le Marche region.

She stressed that the number remains provisional and that the search continues.

Dawn broke over the rolling hills of central Lazio and Le Marche regions after a night of uninterrupted search efforts. Aided by sniffer dogs, firefighters and rescue crews using their bare hands pulled chunks of cement, rock and metal apart from mounds of rubble where homes once stood searching for signs of life.

One area of focus was the Hotel Roma in Amatrice, famous for the Amatriciana bacon and tomato pasta sauce that brings food lovers to this medieval hilltop town each August for its food festival.

Amatrice’s mayor had initially said 70 guests were in the crumbled hotel ahead of this weekend’s festival, but rescue workers later halved that estimate after the owner said most guests managed to escape.

Firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari said that one body had been pulled out of the hotel rubble just before dawn but that the search continued there and elsewhere, even as aftershocks rattled the area a day after the magnitude 6 temblor struck at 3:36 a.m. on Wednesday.

“We’re still in a phase that allows us to hope we’ll find people alive,” Cari said, noting that in the 2009 earthquake in nearby L’Aquila a survivor was pulled out after 72 hours.

Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometers (15 miles) further east.

Italy’s civil protection agency reported most of the dead — 190 — were in Amatrice and Accumuli and their nearby hamlets.