L'AQUILA, Italy - Bells tolled in hilltowns across central Italy on Wednesday as the first funerals got underway for victims of the country's devastating earthquake. The Vatican granted a dispensation so a funeral mass for most of the 272 dead could be celebrated on Good Friday.
As more bodies were pulled from the rubble, some of the 28,000 homeless spent another day lining up for food and water at some of the 20 tent camps that have sprouted up around this quake-devastated city.
Pope Benedict said he would visit the area soon.
Rescue efforts continued for the 15 people still missing, but officials began discussing rebuilding the stricken region and reopening schools. They stressed it would take a month or two to have a clear idea of the extent of the damage.
''For now the needs are basic. The people in the camps, they don't have toothbrushes, they don't have toothpaste,'' said Massimo Cialente, mayor of the hard-hit city of L'Aquila. ''You can't find a place to buy cigarettes or get a coffee.''
The magnitude-6.3 quake hit L'Aquila and several towns covering 600 square kilometres in central Italy early Monday, levelling buildings and reducing entire blocks to piles of rubble. It was the worst quake to hit Italy in three decades.
The death toll stood at 272, six of whom hadn't been identified, the ANSA news agency reported, citing carabinieri police. Sixteen of the dead were children, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.
Of the injured, 100 remained in serious condition, he said.
One 98-year-old survivor, rescued by firemen in the hamlet of Tempera, 30 hours after quake, impressed Italy with her fortitude.
Maria D'Antuono said in an interview on private Italia Uno TV network, that while she lay in her bed, surrounded by pieces of fallen plaster, she passed the time by crocheting.
When firefighters arrived to help her out of her home, she ate some crackers, and then told her rescuers, ''At least let me comb my hair'' before she was brought outside.
Two people were arrested for looting Wednesday in the nearly levelled town of Onna, the ANSA news agency said, citing police. They had an estimated US$105,000 worth of merchandise.
Berlusconi said looting in the quake zone was on the rise and that the government was considering an increase in penalties. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters that anti-looting police patrols would also be stepped up.
Madonna pledged $500,000 in quake relief, said Fernando Caparso, the mayor of Pacentro, the mountainside village where two of the pop star's grandparents were born.
On Wednesday, the first funerals got underway for the victims, including for Giuseppe Chiavaroli, 24, a football player for Fiorentina's lower-division team who was killed along with his girlfriend in Monday's quake.
Relatives and friends gathered in his hometown of Loreto Aprutino, 45 kilometres from the hard-hit city of L'Aquila, for the funeral mass.
As churchbells tolled and onlookers applauded in the typical Italian gesture of mourning, players from his team carried his casket, his sky-blue soccer jersey draped on top.
''We will try to be strong,'' his father Tomasso Ciavaroli said.