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Italians Fear More Mudslides

May 12, 1998

SARNO, Italy (AP) _ Rescue workers dug four bodies out of brick-hard mud Tuesday in southern Italy, raising the death toll from last week’s mudslides to 139.

With more rain expected later this week, geologists and civil defense experts were working on a new evacuation plan for the Mount Sarno area. Studies have shown that more mudslides would block the road designated as the escape route.

About 150 people were still missing since torrents of mud and water barreled down Mount Sarno.

Experts said studying photos taken from helicopters and readings of sensors studding the mountain convinced them that any new mudslides could cut off the evacuation route, said Lorenzo Alessandrini, one of the experts working on the evacuation plan, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

But a top civil defense official insisted that residents near Mount Sarno, about 20 miles inland from Naples, can stay in their homes _ even if rains return.

``The Civil Defense Ministry sees no need to evacuate the population in light of the predicted bad weather,″ said Franco Barberi, a scientist who is the ministry’s undersecretary.

Scientists riding in helicopters were photographing the slide area to predict any new danger.

Another team of experts was developing an early-warning system that would place sensors along the mountain’s slopes. They also were studying ways to divert future slides before they reach any of the six towns at Mount Sarno’s base.

Barberi told Parliament in Rome that the slides were so ``sudden and unexpected″ that no warning system could have detected them in time to save lives.

Residents of the hard-hit region have accused Premier Romano Prodi’s center-left government of not doing enough to avert last week’s tragedy. Prodi’s government was split Tuesday over a future approach.

Environment Minister Edo Ronchi threatened to quit if the government did not promise a greater commitment to safeguarding Italy’s environment, including setting aside more funds for that goal.

The mudslides were in part blamed on the heavy deforestation of Mount Sarno, coupled with the outlawed but long-tolerated practice of building in areas deemed geologically unstable.

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