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Italy Apartment Building Collapses

November 11, 1999

FOGGIA, Italy (AP) _ A five-story apartment building in the southern city of Foggia collapsed into a pile of rubble before dawn today, burying scores of people. At least 11 people were killed, state TV said.

Many more were missing, and at midday rescuers could hear just one faint voice under the rubble.

``Every minute we lose could mean the end of someone’s life,″ said Salvatore Distaso, president of the Puglia region.

Authorities estimated that 71 people were home at the time of the collapse. At least 12 survived, state TV said.

Experts suspected structural problems in the 30-year-old building, according to Mayor Paolo Agostinacchio.

Fire Chief Paola Moccia told the ANSA news agency that rescuers could hear the voice of a boy, Angelo, deep inside the pile of rubble.

``We have to proceed with much caution,″ Moccia said. ``We’re talking to him, he’s asking for help, saying he’s thirsty. We’re trying to keep him calm.″

There was scant warning of the tragedy.

The building superintendent, Luigi Laconta, 50, said a resident woke him and said the building was creaking. They ran, ringing doorbells to alert people.

``At this point I took a step back, thinking I would see someone stick their head out of a window,″ Laconta said. ``Instead, I saw the entire building crumple in front of me.″

Many may have died on the stairs, trying to escape.

``In the heart of the night I heard my bed shake, like an earthquake,″ said survivor Salvatore Taronna, 19, from his hospital bed. ``Then I heard creaking noises but I couldn’t understand what was happening.″

``All of a sudden I found myself deep in chunks of cement,″ Taronna said. ``It was dark and I didn’t have the strength to scream.″

Aldo Guidone said his son and daughter-in-law felt the floor tremble, then heard their doorbell ring. The next thing they knew, they were lying amid rubble. Their 8-year-old son was missing.

One family of five heard creaking, saw a hole open up in their kitchen floor and ran, ANSA reported. They rang neighbors’ doorbells to warn them, but the building crumbled in a cloud of dust before they saw anyone else get out.

The fire chief told the AGI news agency that his department got a call from the building supervisor three minutes before the collapse.

According to the mayor, 91 people lived in the building, but not everyone was at home.

Agostinacchio said he planned to have a neighboring apartment house built at the same time evacuated as a precaution. ``Someone is going to have to explain how this happened,″ the mayor said.

In Rome, the Senate observed a minute of silence for the victims. Premier Massimo D’Alema and Interior Minister Rosa Russo Jervolino rushed to the scene. Pope John Paul II sent a condolence message.

The collapse reduced the apartment building, which was in a working class suburb, to a pile of rubble no more than one story high. The survivors included two adults and a boy, all residents of the top floor.

Nicola Crincoli told ANSA she managed to dig her year-old nephew Antonio from the ruins.

``As soon as I saw his little hand in the rubble, I started digging,″ she was quoted as saying. ``I heard cries, and I screamed, and I threw myself on the rubble and started digging with my bare hands.″

Ambulances and emergency personnel swarmed around the site of the tragedy, searching for anyone still alive. Military and police units were on the scene, assisting local rescue crews as anxious friends and relatives waited for news.

``This is a true tragedy involving young families that has brought the city to its knees,″ said the Archbishop of Foggia, Monsignor Domenico Ambrosio.

Foggia, a city of 150,000 people, is 200 miles southeast of Rome in Puglia province.

A similar tragedy struck in Rome last December, when a five-story apartment building collapsed, killing 27 people. Investigators later attributed the collapse to structural problems.

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