| Two rescue workers comfort a mother holding a teddy bear as they head for the cemetery in San Giuliano di Puglia. (AFP)
San Giuliano di Puglia, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Anguished parents and relatives today railed at the heavens and demanded answers as they buried 26 school children crushed when an earthquake reduced their primary school to rubble.
An entire class of six-year-olds was killed on Thursday when an earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale, the biggest to hit Italy since 1997, toppled the school in seconds.
The emotional mass funeral in San Giuliano di Puglia, where most homes and buildings have now been evacuated, gripped the country.
Italian national TV carried the funeral live and the disaster continued to be the focus for the country’s media.
A carpet of white, yellow and pink flowers sent from across Italy and as far afield as Australia surrounded the town’s new sports hall, which served as an impromptu funeral parlour.
“Why did God do this to us' Why'” one woman wailed, as she followed the flower-covered coffins of twins Luca and Gianmaria.
Thousands of mourners wept and applauded in respect as the train of 26 small white coffins, borne by rescue workers who had struggled for days to pull the children’s bodies from the classroom rubble, headed to the town’s cemetery.
“Destiny stole you from us too early. So now we ask only that God looks after you,” read a message on one wreath.
A teacher also died and two other elderly women were killed when their homes caved in on Thursday, bringing the toll to 29.
Pope John Paul sent his condolences to the small farming town: “I wish to express again to them my paternal closeness, trusting that the young ones are in the hands of God in heaven.”
The funeral service was held outside under specially constructed marquees rather than at town’s church, for fear that aftershocks might shower debris on the mourners.