Reuters International

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

(reuters_tickers)

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 290 people.

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

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.

"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.

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.

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 defence programmes.

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 centre 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 funeral will take place in Amatrice on Tuesday for many of the almost 230 people who died there.

(Additional reporting by Iona Serrapica; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

reuters_tickers

 Reuters International