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Families Wait In Anguish For Word Of Loved Ones

April 25, 1987

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ The families of several missing men from a small town in Italy waited, prayed and talked in their native tongue Friday as the search for workers buried in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building proceeded.

″They all said God shouldn’t have done this to them,″ said the Rev. Carducci D’Amico. D’Amico, pastor of St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church in Bridgeport, had stayed all Thursday night to comfort the relatives of the missing men.

D’Amico had come only to help, not kowing what to expect. But he learned that the 12 missing men and their families came from the village of Pontelandolfo near his own home village in Italy.

Many natives of Pontelandolfo, a town of 5,000 about 36 miles northeast of Naples, have emigrated to the United States.

The families, whose members range in age from 30 to 65, now live in Waterbury, while D’Amico lives in Bridgeport.

He said he tried to comfort them as they conversed in Italian.

″It was not God’s doing,″ he told them. ″It was an accident, part of the human condition you can’t explain. We’re with you, sharing your grief. They died honorably.″

By midmorning some of the relatives had given up the faint glimmer of hope they had held for the survival of their loved ones. Some moved their vigils from the gymnasium at Kolbe-Cathedral High School to the site where the L’Ambiance Plaza apartment complex collapsed about a block away. They hoped to view the bodies pulled from the rubble from rescue workers.

Some victims’ relatives were angry and frustrated when they were turned away by authorities.

″Sergeant, my brother is in the bottom,″ Robert Ritz pleaded with a police officer above the roar of generators and other power equipment being used in the rescue effort.

Ritz’ brother, Albert, an operating engineer, had been on the top floor when the building collapsed.

″What’s the use, he’s in another life,″ said Alfred Rinaldi as he walked away in a daze from the huge slabs of crushed concrete and twisted steel beams that resembled a building leveled by a bomb. ″They didn’t find anybody alive. What’s the use?″

D’Amico said the relatives suffered ″a great sense of disorientation.″

″They couldn’t figure out what happened,″ he said. ″They were in tremendous distress. You can feel the emotions of those people. They were not looking for some kind of consolation. They were just hoping some news would come to them.″

Among those who waited, the priest said, where three sons of Rocco Mancini. Another family, the Paternostros, lost a brother last year in a similar construction accident and now a second brother was missing, D’Amico said. A third brother might have been lost, too, but he called in sick Thursday and missed work, the priest said.

″I’m glad I was here,″ D’Amico said. ″Talking to them I found out details about their families and origin and I felt really involved. This is some kind of personal grief.″

He said that during the night three families were informed that the bodies of their relatives had been pulled from the debris.

″I prayed in Italian for them and their loved ones who died,″ he said.

At a morning Mass at St. Augustine’s Church, where the steeple pointing skyward provided a stark contrast to the cranes towering above the construction site a few hundred yards away, Rev. Joseph Joaquin, the assistant pastor, prayed for the victims and their families.

″The disaster shows life is very precarious,″ he told the hushed parishioners.


EDITOR’S NOTE - George Esper is the AP Northeast regional reporter, based in Boston.

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