Devastating earthquake in Italy prompts outpouring of support; Benedictine monks among those affected

A rescuer stands in front of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, on Aug. 24, 2016.Reuters

Christian groups quickly began mobilising to extend humanitarian assistance to the affected people of Italy following the 6.2 earthquake that struck the central part of their country on Wednesday.

Among those affected by the disaster are the Benedictine monks of Norcia, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) reports. However, it adds that although their monastery buildings were damaged, the monks are all safe and that they will temporarily be relocated to Rome as a precautionary measure.

Medical teams, nurses, and rescue workers from the Italian Aid Corps of the Sovereign Order of Malta were among the first rescuers to reach the affected areas.

The Order of Malta has activated a mobile unit to provide assistance to the affected residents of the badly hit towns of Amatrice and Accumoli. In Arquata del Tronto, its canine unit has been called to help in rescue operations. Its emergency medical team is also working with the Department of Civil Protection in disaster intervention and medical care in Amatrice.

The Vatican City also quickly dispatched six fire brigades for the use of the Italian Civil Protection agency.

Members of Unitalsi, the Catholic aid group for ill Lourdes pilgrims, are returning from their pilgrimage to Lourdes, France to help affected families in Amatrice.

Catholics and members of other Christian denominations have also been encouraged to contribute to the relief effort in Italy. Bishop Javier EchevarrĂ­a Rodriguez, the prelate of Opus Dei, asked them "to collaborate as much as possible and to help those responsible for organising and bringing relief to those affected."

Social media sites are also being used in the humanitarian undertaking as people offer support and shelter to earthquake survivors through their posts, according to CNA.

Teams of volunteers from around Italy are now in the provinces of Rieti and Ascoli Piceno, extending assistance to affected families.

The number of people killed in the massive earthquake that shook central Italy on Wednesday rose to 267 on Friday and nearly 400 injured people were in hospitals, the Civil Protection Department said, according to Reuters.

It said aftershocks were continuing in the area, with more than 900 aftershocks recorded since the quake struck, 57 of them since midnight.