Francis said the Catholic Church shared the “suffering” of the victims of he quake that claimed nearly 300 lives and pledged: “As soon as possible, I hope to come and see you.”
The Argentine pontiff told thousands of worshippers gathered for the Angelus prayer in Rome's Saint Peter's square he had a “spiritual closeness” to residents of the mountain villages in a remote area straddling the Umbria, Marche and Lazio regions.
Meanwhile, as hope faded of finding anyone else alive and the search for bodies nearly complete, rescue workers and survivors turned their attention to a bleak future, with winter around the corner.
“We're getting ready for winter. Given what's happened in other quakes,we're going to spend winter here,” said Emidio Chiappini, from the devastated Sant'Angelo village.
The government has pledged to support immediate reconstruction and Chiappini said he hoped authorities would send pre-fabricated housing to stave off the frost that will soon descend on the mountainous region.
The Italian government has freed up around 60 million euros ($67 million)in immediate aid, added to which will be approximately 10 million euros in donations.
“Basically, we know we're going to be here for three or four months. That's not official, but we have got the equipment for that,” said a volunteer for the civil protection agency who gave his name as Nicola.
According to Italian media, the government is poised to appoint a special commissioner to oversee the huge reconstruction operation, which is being hampered by aftershocks — more than 1,800 since the earthquake struck on Wednesday.
With the immediate grief fading, the focus was switching to how such damage could have been wrought in an area so close (50 kilometres, 32 miles) to L'Aquila, which was hit by a 2009 earthquake in which more than 300 people perished.
Prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva has indicated that property owners who commissioned suspected sub-standard work could be held responsible for contributing to the quake's deadly impact.
“If the buildings had been constructed as they are in Japan they wouldn't have collapsed,” he told La Repubblica daily.
“If it emerges that individuals cut corners, they will be pursued and those that have made mistakes will pay a price,” the prosecutor said.
Some of the survivors in the camps of blue tents accommodating those who have lost their homes said that on top of everything else, they had to battle against boredom.
“Basically, things are OK. It's just that we are doing nothing all dayhere. I'm used to working nearly 18 hours a day and now, there's nothing to do,” said one survivor who gave his name as Massimo.
Another survivor, Atemio Scienzo, warned that endemic corruption in Italy could stymie reconstruction efforts.
“After the emergency comes the period of reconstruction and that's the important bit. It has to happen quickly and the funds have to arrive,” said the craftsman.
“If half of it gets lost en route, as often happens, there will be aproblem.”