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Italy quake toll rises to 281

Hopes of finding more survivors from Italy’s powerful earthquake faded on Friday, with the death toll rising to 281 and the rescue operation in some of the stricken areas called off.

Three days after the quake struck the mountainous heart of the country, sniffer dogs and emergency crews continued to scour the town of Amatrice, which was leveled in the disaster, but there was no sign of life beneath the debris.

“Only a miracle can bring our friends back alive from the rubble, but we are still digging because many are missing,” town mayor Sergio Pirozzi told reporters.

Italy plans to hold a state funeral for around 40 of the victims on Saturday, which will be held in the nearby city of Ascoli Piceno. A day of national mourning was announced, with flags due to fly at half mast around the country for the dead, who include a number of foreigners. (Reuters)