200 Missing After Italy Mudslides
200 Missing After Italy Mudslides
May. 08, 1998
SARNO, Italy (AP) _ More than two days after torrential rains unleashed massive landslides across a heavily populated area south of Naples, rescue crews are digging out more and more bodies, and always fewer survivors.
By early today, 74 bodies had been found, many in first-story homes engulfed by the mud, or in cars buried under debris, heaped 12 feet high in places. About 200 people were missing, and feared dead.
``There still might be a few lucky survivors, trapped in air bubbles in the mud, or within undamaged structures,'' civil defense official Roberto Malisan said. ``But the more hours pass, the more hope fades.''
Malisan, who arrived in Sarno on a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane from the Aviano air base in northern Italy, said rescue efforts were extremely difficult because the mud was so deep. He estimated it would take another four days to remove it all.
At the De Amicis elementary school in Sarno, a few hundred of the nearly 2,000 homeless lined up for dinner: Rice, meat, peas and an apple, served by Italian soldiers out of a kitchen designed for the battlefield.
Rows of low, green, wooden desks, set with cartons of wine and water, lined the school's outdoor basketball court, which served as the dining room.
Inside the classrooms, more homeless sat on cots marveling about their good fortune at being alive or complaining about the slow arrival of emergency aid. Volunteers streamed in and out delivering donations of clothing or food.
``My cousin and I had just enough time to escape out the window,'' said 64-year-old Emilia Tramontana. ``Another half-hour and we would have been swept away with the rest of them.''
Maria Esposita, camped out at the school with her husband, three children, and three nephews, said she saw a person being swept away by a river of mud in front of her home _ but couldn't do anything because she herself was trapped inside.
The family spent Tuesday night on their balcony, and were saved the next day by rescue workers, who dug a path to the doorway and then gave them waist-high rubber boots so they could wade through the sludge.
One of the few found alive Thursday was an elderly, hearing-impaired woman who was plucked off her balcony by a firefighter who lowered himself from a helicopter.
More than 3,000 firefighters, police and soldiers searched through six towns at the base of Mount Sarno, a 3,600-foot mountain about 20 miles south of Naples.
At one point, someone said they heard voices coming from a local church. Rescue teams rushed to the site and dug furiously, freeing the building of the muck that had plastered shut its escape routes _ only to find no one inside.
According to some, it all had been a disaster waiting to happen.
On Thursday, Italian media unearthed a 12-volume report to Parliament last month that warned of the danger of landslides.
A government-appointed scientific committee said the combination of mountainous and volcanic terrain, occasional heavy rainfall, little-regulated urban growth and lack of maintenance all spelled trouble for the Campania region surrounding Naples.
Officials have placed much of the blame on Southern Italy's common practice of building houses without permits.
On Thursday, menancing clouds approached the area again. Residents stared at the sky in trepidation, praying that the rain would spare them more destruction.