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Campaign From Italian Museums Aims To Help Earthquake Relief Efforts

Firefighters gather near the damaged Sant'Agostino church and rubble and debris of destroyed buildings inside a cordoned-off area on Sunday in the central Italian village of Amatrice.

Italy's state museums are donating their proceeds today to reconstruction efforts, following a massive earthquake that killed at least 291 people and nearly leveled three medieval towns.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini is appealing to people to visit the country's museums to show their solidarity with the victims of the powerful temblor, as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley tells our Newscast unit.

Franceschini made the appeal in a post on Twitter. "He said the idea is to harness the nation's rich artistic heritage to help recover and restore other art damaged by the earthquake," as Eleanor reports.

This comes as officials involved in rescue operations say that now, there is "no change of finding anyone else alive," Eleanor says. As The Associated Press reports, "nobody has been found alive in Italy's earthquake ruins since Wednesday, and hopes have vanished of finding any more survivors."

Florence's Uffizi Gallery posted this video on Twitter, showing a moment of silence in their galleries as part of the relief campaign:

Franceschini said "293 culturally important sites in the area affected, many of them churches, had either collapsed or been seriously damaged," as the BBC reports.

In the hard-hit village of Accumoli, Eleanor spoke with Fabio di Prospero, who is leading a military police unit aimed at recovering art.

"It's a very difficult job for us because this land is a mountain land. And we are checking each church in each small town," di Prospero said.

Meanwhile, Italy is beginning to plan rebuilding efforts, which Eleanor says are "forecast to cost over a billion euros."

But clean-up and rebuilding plans are complicated by continuing, powerful aftershocks. As reporter Christopher Livesay tells our Newscast unit, the town at the epicenter of the quake is facing an increasingly desperate situation.

"The mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, warned that aftershocks are gnawing away at the few accessible entry points that remain in the town, and that it could be completely shut off if conditions worsen," Livesay reports. Other towns also face bridges and road closures.

Also on Sunday, Pope Francis announced plans to travel to the impacted area during his Sunday Angelus service. "I want to renew my spiritual closeness to the inhabitants of the area that was heavily hit by the earthquake. I will visit you and personally offer the comfort of faith, as soon as possible," the Pope said, as Christopher reports.

Meanwhile, the majority-Catholic country held its first Sunday mass service since the earthquake struck. In the town of Ascoli Pecino, the bishop told worshipers this tragic story about two sisters, as Eleanor reports:

"Nine-year-old Giulia, whose body protected her younger sister Giorgia. The five-year-old Giorgia lived, while Giulia died. Giulia was one of the victims honored in a state funeral Saturday. A note had been left on her coffin by the firemen who rescued her sister. It said: 'Ciao, little one. Sorry we arrived too late.'"

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