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Italy Mudslide Death Toll Hits 135

May 11, 1998

SARNO, Italy (AP) _ The hard mud in southern Italy yielded more landslide victims today, raising the death toll a day after thousands of mourners wept and prayed at a mass funeral for most of the dead.

Of the 135 bodies found so far _ including 16 today _ 113 were in Sarno, an agricultural town about 20 miles inland from Naples. Other victims were found in nearby towns.

Italians united today in a day of mourning.

Six days after torrential rains sent rivers of mud barreling down Mount Sarno, destroying everything in their path, rescue workers kept up their grim task: Digging through layer after layer of hardened mud and debris to search for the dozens still feared buried.

The death toll has tapped a geyser of anger.

Sarno residents have accused the mayor of failing to advise them to leave their homes when the mud slides began Tuesday. They blamed regional and national politicians for failing to stop the common practice _ blamed mostly on organized crime _ of illegally building homes in areas known to be at risk of slides.

``Why didn’t our mayor warn us?″ cried Maria Esposito, a 28-year-old mother of three who lost cousins and neighbors. ``It wouldn’t have mattered if we had lost our homes, but all this unnecessary loss of life makes me so angry.″

Sarno’s mayor today declared the town’s tap water unfit to drink after it poured out cloudy from faucets. The ban on drinking water came on day were temperatures reached 79 degrees and dust from the sun-baked mud made the air choking.

Loaded on the back of army trucks, 83 flower-laden coffins moved in a funeral procession Sunday toward the outdoor soccer stadium where Sarno’s bishop celebrated mass. Among them was the tiny white coffin of Sarno’s youngest victim, just 3 months old.

Mourners wailed and clutched at the passing bodies of loved ones. The victims had to be buried in the town’s newer cemetery because the old one lies under 13 feet of sludge.

Thirteen other victims were buried Sunday in ceremonies separate from the mass funeral.

Italian Premier Romano Prodi and President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro kept silent during the funeral service. But Prodi later pledged that the government would work ``not only to help you recover from this tragedy, but also to create work and guarantee a future for your youth.″

Prodi was to meet later today with the president of the Campania region, where the tragedy occurred, to map out a plan to assist the families of the dead and the nearly 2,000 left homeless.

Unemployment runs higher than 20 percent in this region south of Naples.

Deafening applause went up when Bishop Gioacchino Illiano recalled Sarno’s ``miracle″ survivor, 22-year-old Roberto Robustelli, who held out for three days before rescuers found him buried in mud at the bottom of a well.

``Roberto was given back to us by God as a symbol of prayer and hope,″ the bishop said. ``He lives because he wanted to live.″

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