- Eight-year-old Giulia Renaldo was dead by the time rescuers reached her body in Pescara del Tronto
- She saved her four-year-old sister Giorgia - who escaped without a scratch - by lying on top of her
- More than 4,300 emergency service workers face a race against time to find remaining survivors
- Rescuers are reportedly running out of body bags as they continue to recover the dead
- Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says the Government is helping and supporting Britons' affected
- Reports of looting from the devastated homes have led to police adding extra surveillance
- Firefighters are escorting earthquake survivors back to their homes — temporarily — to get belongings
- The 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck near Norcia in Umbria, central Italy, at 3.30am on Wednesday
- In the 2009 earthquake in nearby L'Aquila a survivor was pulled out after 72 hours
- 250 dead including 8-month-old baby, his brother, nine, and their parents, who were buried in their sleep
- Stefano Petrucci, mayor of Accumoli, said some 2,500 people are left homeless in the local community
- In the town of Pescara del Tronto, the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children's play park
- Are you caught up in the Italian earthquake?
In one of the most remarkable stories of courage to emerge from the catastrophic 6.2-magnitude quake that struck central Italy on Wednesday, the two girls were found buried together in the rubble of their holiday home in the village of Pescara del Tronto but only one of them survived.
Distraught grandmother Angela Cafini wept as she recalled how her four-year-old grand daughter escaped with barely a scratch thanks to her older sister who lay on top of her to protect her as the house collapsed around them.
'Giulia died saving her sister. She lay on top of her. That is the only reason she is alive. I am told she has no injuries and that is the only explanation for that,' Ms Cafini said.
The village has been virtually wiped from the map with almost every building destroyed.
The astonishing tale of heroism emerged as the death toll from the earthquake rose to 250.
Officials fear the final number of victims will be more than 500 as they continue their painstaking search through the shattered remains of four villages looking for more survivors.
BRITAIN'S FOREIGN SECRETARY BORIS JOHNSON SAYS GOVERNMENT IS HELPING
Mrs Cafini wept as she told Daily Mail Online how one granddaughter died but the other survived. Eight-year-old Giula Renaldo was dead by the time rescuers reached her body while her younger sister Giorgia was alive and is now recovering in hospital.
'They were found together hours after the earthquake hit us,' said Mrs Cafini.
'It is a miracle that she is alive, but I am torn. I have lost one granddaughter and one has lived.'
As 64-year-old Mrs Cafini spoke she frequently broke down in tears with friends and rescuers coming to comfort her. She said her daughter Michaela and son-in-law Fabio were visiting her home in the tiny village perched on a hillside close to the epicentre of the earthquake.
They were on a week's holiday from their home in Rome when the quake struck in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Mrs Cafini was staying at another house previously owned by her own mother and escaped unscathed when the village was wiped out.
Her daughter and son-in-law suffered crush injuries and were taken to hospital in Ascoli Pinceino where they are recovering.
When they were transported from the village they had no idea if their two daughters were alive or dead.
'We had to leave the village because it was so unsafe and they brought us here,' said Mrs Cafini gesturing to a cluster of blue tents erected by the side of the main road leading to Pescara del Tronto.
'All we could do was sit and wait. It was too dangerous to be in the village. After about 15 hours at 7pm we got word that they had found the girls. One was alive and the other was dead.'
Rescue teams are still searching through the rubble in the village in the faint hope of finding other survivors.
Many of the victims were children, according to Mrs Cafini.
'We have lost so many from the village. There were lots of people, families visiting from Rome. I can't believe what we are going through.'
Meanwhile, rescue workers are reportedly being forced to leave dead bodies inside destroyed homes because they are running out of body bags.
An ambulance worker who found a woman crushed in her bed in Sant'Angelo told The Mirror: 'She's dead but there are no more body bags so we just have to wait.'
Their are also reports of looting from some of the shattered homes, leading to police bringing in extra security.
In a makeshift tent city just outside Pescara Del Tronto, retirees Vittorio and Edde who were at their holiday home in the village of Capo Dacqua said they were uninjured but had lost everything, including the car they had driven from their home in Rome.
'All we have are the clothes that we have on now,' said Vittorio.
'We were lucky. Our house was not badly damaged and we stayed inside an hour before the firemen came and got a ladder to get us down from the balcony.
'We want to go back to Rome but are worried about our possessions in the house.'
Weeping in a campsite erected to house the homeless from a string of mountain villages, Rita Rosine, 63, said her 75-year-old sister was trapped under the ruins of a collapsed house, presumed dead.
'The situation is worse than in war. It's awful, awful ... they say it will take two days to dig her out because they have to shore up the surrounding buildings.
'She didn't deserve to die like that, she was so good.'
The Red Cross is shipping in food and water supplies for homeless residents. Among those who came to pick up emergency provisions were Maria Atrimala, 48, and her 15-year-old daughter.
'We escaped by pure luck, the stairs of the house held and we ran, blindly in the dark and dust,' she said with tears rolling down her face.
'When we got out we could hear the cries of people still trapped and we helped those we could.
'We were in L'Aquila when the earthquake struck there, and now this. We have friends, relatives that didn't make it. What the future holds I don't know.'
Mario, a father of two small boys, said he was still in shock. 'We slept in the car last night, though with the quakes it was hard to sleep at all,' he told AFP between sips of Coke.
'We've booked a tent for tonight. But then tomorrow, the next day?'
Italian firefighters are escorting earthquake survivors back to their homes — temporarily — to get some belongings left behind when they fled the shaking.
In Amatrice, many elderly and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.
On Thursday dramatic footage of a ten-year-old girl being pulled alive from the village emerged as rescuers toiled through the night in the search for survivors.
The girl, who has not been named, was found after almost 17 hours.
As rescue efforts continue officials said more than 4,300 people are involved in what is now effectively become a search and recovery operation.
Specialist teams, including those expert in mountain and cave rescues, were heavily involved in the searches in the four mountainside towns and villages of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto.
Sniffer dogs, firefighters and rescue crews had worked through the night using their bare hands to pull chunks of cement, rock and metal apart from mounds of rubble where homes once stood searching for signs of life.
'Unfortunately, 90 percent we pull out are dead, but some make it, that's why we are here,' said Christian Bianchetti, a volunteer from Rieti who was working in devastated Amatrice.
DAY TWO OF THE FRANTIC SEARCH OPERATION
One area of focus was the Hotel Roma in Amatrice, famous for the Amatriciana bacon and tomato pasta sauce that brings food lovers to this medieval hilltop town each August for its food festival.
Amatrice's mayor had initially said 70 guests were in the crumbled hotel ahead of this weekend's festival, but rescue workers later halved that estimate after the owner said most guests managed to escape.
Firefighters' spokesman Luca Cari said that one body had been pulled out of the hotel rubble just before dawn but that the search continued there and elsewhere, even as aftershocks rattled the area.
'We're still in a phase that allows us to hope we'll find people alive,' Cari said, noting that in the 2009 earthquake in nearby L'Aquila a survivor was pulled out after 72 hours.
Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometers (15 miles) further east.
Italy's civil protection agency reported the death toll had risen to 241 early Thursday with at least 368 others injured. Most of the dead - 190 - were in Amatrice and Accumuli and their nearby hamlets.
The 73rd Venice Film Festival, which starts next week, has cancelled its opening night festivities to honour the dead.
Festival director Alberto Barbera tweeted today: 'Gala dinner and cocktail party on the beach cancelled for the opening of #Venice73 in respect and solidarity to the victims of the earthquake.'
As the search effort continued, the soul-searching began once again as Italy confronted the effects of having the highest seismic hazard in Western Europe, some of it in its most picturesque medieval villages, and anti-seismic building codes that aren't applied to old buildings and often aren't respected when new ones are built.
'In a country where in the past 40 years there have been at least eight devastating earthquakes ... the only lesson we have learned is to save lives after the fact,' columnist Sergio Rizzo wrote in Thursday's Corriere della Sera. 'We are far behind in the other lessons.'
Experts estimate that 70 percent of Italy's buildings aren't 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 and newer structures built before codes were passed or after the codes were in effect but in violation of them.
In recent quakes, some of these more modern buildings have been the deadliest: the university dormitory that collapsed in the 2009 L'Aquila quake, killing 11 students; the elementary school that crumbled in San Giuliano di Puglia in 2002, killing 26 children - the town's entire first-grade class. In some cases, the anti-seismic building standards have been part of the problem, including using reinforced cement for roofs that are then too heavy for weak walls when quakes strike.
Premier Matteo Renzi, visiting the quake-affected zone Wednesday, promised to rebuild 'and guarantee a reconstruction that will allow residents to live in these communities, to relaunch these beautiful towns that have a wonderful past that will never end.'
While the government is already looking ahead to reconstruction, rescue workers on the ground still had days and weeks of work ahead of them. In hard-hit Pescara del Tronto, firefighter Franco Mantovan said early Thursday that crews knew of three residents still under the rubble, but in a hard-to-reach area.
One man, Guido Bordo, 69, lost his sister and her husband after they were trapped inside their holiday house in the hamlet of Illica, north of hard-hit Amatrice. Before their deaths were confirmed, he had described how he could only hear the sound of cats as he scrambled to find his loved-ones beneath the rubble.
The first victim to be named by local media reports was Marisol Piermarini - an 18-month-old baby who was sleeping in her crib when the house she was staying in Arquata del Tronto collapsed. Mother Martina and father Massimiliano have been taken to hospital with 'many wounds' after being pulled from the rubble.
Tragically, the family had moved to the area from L'Aquila after their home there was destroyed in another earthquake in 2009.
The little girl's grandfather, Massimo Piermarini, said he desperately tried to save his family: 'They did not want me to go in because it was all in danger, but I said that I did not care at all, I had to go looking for them, but unfortunately for the girl there was nothing to do.'
Some of the worst damage was suffered in Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region where the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children's play park.
EUROPE'S DEADLIEST EARTHQUAKES AND WHY ITALY IS TORMENTED BY QUAKES
Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica, said: 'We came out to the piazza, and it looked like Dante's Inferno. People crying for help, help. Rescue workers arrived after one hour... one and a half hours.'
On Wednesday the Queen joined others from around the world in sending a message of condolence to Italy, saying she was saddened to hear of the loss of life and that her thoughts were with families affected. President Barack Obama called Italian President Sergio Mattarella and saluted the 'quick action' by first responders in Italy.
The quake's epicentre was near Norcia in Umbria, about 105 miles north east of Rome, and falling bridges and landslides meant some areas are still cut off with emergency teams only able to get there on foot.
The mayor of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said this morning: 'My town isn't here anymore' as people were carried out of ruined buildings on stretchers and people desperately searched the debris for survivors or sobbed as they inspected their own ruined homes.
Photographer Emiliano Grillotti said that in Accumoli he saw over 15 people digging with their bare hands to save a family of four with two children. He said: 'I can hear one of the children screaming'.
Wednesday's disaster is the biggest in the region since April 2009 when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake occurred 28 miles to the south east of Norcia near the town of L'Aquila, killing 295 people and injuring 1,000. That disaster led to lengthy recriminations over lax building controls and the failure of authorities to warn residents that a quake could be imminent.
The first victims of the devastating quake were an elderly couple whose home collapsed in Pescara del Tronto, in the Marche region, around ten miles from the epicentre. A family of four, including a eight-month-old baby and his brother, nine, were also reported dead in the town of Accumoli.
As rescue workers carried away the body of the infant, carefully covered by a small blanket, the children's grandmother blamed God: 'He took them all at once,' she wailed.
Two brothers, aged four and seven, were pulled from the rubble nearby after hiding under a bed with their grandmother as the building fell down. Some 100 people were still unaccounted for in the village of Arquata del Tronto.
A newborn baby was also found dead after being pulled from a family home in the center of Arquata del Tronto.
The quake hit during the summer when the populations of the towns and villages in the area, normally low during the rest of the year, are swelled by holidaymakers.
Accumoli mayor Stefano Petrucci said on Wednesday: 'Now that daylight has come, we see that the situation is even more dreadful than we feared, with buildings collapsed, people trapped under the rubble and no sound of life.
'We have a tragedy here. Four people are under the rubble, but they are not showing any sign of life. Two parents and two children.
'It is a disaster, we have no light, no telephones, the rescue services have not got here yet.'
The quake also destroyed homes and buried people under rubble in the small town of Amatrice, where many more are feared dead.
'The roads in and out of town are cut off. Half the town is gone,' said the town's mayor Sergio Pirozzi.
He added: 'There are people under the rubble... There's been a landslide and a bridge might collapse. The situation is dramatic, there are many dead. I cannot give a toll for now because rescue efforts are under way and it is very, very difficult'.
The centre of Amatrice was devastated, with entire palazzos razed to the ground. Rocks and metal tumbled on to the streets and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as aftershocks continued into the early hours.
'The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,' marveled resident Maria Gianni. 'I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn't hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.'
Another resident said she had been woken by the shaking in time to witness the wall of her bedroom cracking open. She was able to escape into the street with her children.