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Mud Slides Kill 77 in Italy

May 8, 1998

QUINDICI, Italy (AP) _ Rescuers pulled more bodies today from homes and cars engulfed by mudslides in southern Italy but still had not reached some isolated areas days after the disaster that killed at least 77 people.

In this small town 80 miles east of Naples, a mound of cars on a main road lay crushed on top of each other, swept away by a raging mud torrent Tuesday night. Some of the cars were buried and it was impossible to tell if people were inside.

Italy’s civil defense agency has reported widely fluctuating numbers of missing. The latest count was 107, but officials in nearby Sarno, the hardest-hit town, said twice that number were missing in their town alone.

``There is no way to tell how many people are still lost,″ said civil defense coordinator Gaetano Simonetti, adding that eight bodies were found today.

He said the top priority around Quindici now was clearing roads to reach outlying homes, but rescue workers were hampered by a lack of supplies.

``We don’t have all the trucks we need,″ Simonetti said.

In a sign of the fury and force of the onslaught, five homes in one part of town were completely swept away, leaving only a forlorn red roof.

Forty U.S. Navy engineers arrived today in Lauro, the next town over, to build a tent city for Italian rescuers at an old factory site.

Days after torrential rains unleashed massive landslides across a heavily populated area south and east of Naples, rescue crews were losing hope of finding living victims.

``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 in Sarno. ``But the more hours (that) pass, the more hope fades.″

Malisan estimated it would take four days to clear all the muck.

More than 3,000 firefighters, police and soldiers were deployed in rescue work through six towns at the base of Mount Sarno, a 3,600-foot peak 20 miles southeast of Naples.

Even as rescue crews dug through the avalanches of mud, some people started returning home. On the main street in Quindici, the mud was up to the door knobs. Families tried to dig through to their front doors.

The mood, at times, was ugly.

``Unfortunately, the residents are very agitated,″ Simonetti said. ``Instead of helping us out, they are breathing down our necks, complaining we aren’t helping them clean out their homes.″

Police arrested eight looters in Sarno on Thursday. Plainclothes agents were deployed in the area overnight to prevent other thefts, the ANSA news agency said.

Officials said several factors contributed to the disaster: mountains that were stripped of vegetation by fires or illegal building, houses that were built without permits or too close to rivers, and a lack of warning for residents to flee.

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