Facebook activates its Safety Check after Italy earthquake as the death toll continues to rise

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Facebook has activated its Safety Check feature following the magnitude 6 earthquake that levelled three towns in central Italy yesterday.

Rescue crews were racing against time in the search for survivors, as the death toll rose to 247.

Aided by sniffer dogs and audio equipment, they worked through the night, using their bare hands to pull chunks of cement, rock and metal apart from mounds of rubble, looking for signs of life.

the safety check page on facebook (Facebook)
People in the area can now let their friends know they're safe on Facebook

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

Fire service spokesman Luca Cari said one body had been pulled out of the hotel rubble just before dawn but the search was continuing there and elsewhere, even as 460 aftershocks rattled the area after the quake struck at 3.36am on Wednesday.

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

The bell tower of Amatrice stands as the surrounding buildings are damaged (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Amatrice was one of the worst affected towns (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Italy's civil protection agency reported that the death toll had risen to 247 early on Thursday, with at least 264 people in hospital. Most of the dead - 190 - were in Amatrice and Accumuli and their nearby hamlets.

The civil protection agency set up tent cities around the affected towns to accommodate the homeless, 1,200 of whom took advantage of the offer to spend the night, civil protection officials said on Thursday. In Amatrice, some 50 elderly people and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.

Rescuers mark a building with paint signaling the date and time of start and end of the search operation (Gregorio Borgia/AP)
Rescue crews have been racing against time to pull out survivors (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

As the search effort continued, the soul-searching began once again as Italy confronted the effects of having the highest seismic hazard - the greatest risk of earthquakes - in Western Europe.

Experts estimate that 70% of Italy's buildings are not built to anti-seismic standards. After every major quake, proposals are made to improve - but they often languish in Italy's thick bureaucracy, funding shortages, and the huge scope of trying to secure thousands of ancient towns (built before anti-seismic building codes) and newer structures (built before or after the codes were in effect but in violation of them).