L'AQUILA, Italy - The family of an Israeli medical student still unaccounted for after Monday's devastating earthquake here was given the worst possible news Tuesday: Rescue crews said they expected no survivors would emerge from the rubble in which Hussein Hamada is believed to be buried.
The death count from the disaster rose to 228 last night as aftershocks continued to rock the area. Touring the scene, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said 15 people were considered still missing.
One of them is Hamada, 22, of the Galilee village of Kabul, who lived in a student dormitory that totally collapsed when the quake struck.
Hamada's father, Amin, after becoming frustrated with the steady stream of rumors about his son's whereabouts, decided to fly to Italy along with two family members. Tuesday he waited by the ruins of the dormitory, hoping for some word about his son's fate.
"I'm full of hope, and I'm praying. I want to return with him to Israel, to bring him back home," he said, adding that when he spoke with Hussein three days ago, his son had spoken of the many tremors that had struck the region of late.
Amin Hamada stood for hours beside the rubble alongside the relatives of other missing persons. After he enlisted the help of the Israeli consul, rescue coordinators emerged from the rubble with tragic news.
"No one is alive underneath the ruins," one of them said. "We brought in advanced equipment that can detect even faint breathing, but it didn't find a thing."
The father was told by a rescue worker: "There is no hope anyone here is alive." Four bodies had been removed from the site the previous day, but none of them had been identified as that of Hussein, and four bodies are believed to still be buried underneath the rubble.
Despite everything, Amin Hamada continued to cling to the hope his son might have been in another building when quake struck and is in a hospital. An Italian friend of his son told him she thought she had seen someone who looked like Hussein in television news footage, showing a man being carried into a local hospital. Attorney Imad Hajj, a relative of the family, said she even sent the family a video clip captured on a mobile phone of quake victims being carried into the hospital, and some family members believed they spotted someone who looked like Hussein.
Meanwhile, in the student's home village of Kabul, family members waited for news. The missing man's mother, Sana, waited at home with his siblings, other relatives and friends, all eager for some scrap of information.
The medical student's mother broke into tears, crying, "I'm totally confused, I don't know what's happening. Everyone's bringing new information, and I pray to God that he protects our son. As time goes by, I keep losing hope."
Meanwhile, 12 Israeli students who survived the quake returned home Tuesday. They were greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by relieved family members.
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