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Earthquake in Italy Kills 28

November 1, 2002

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SAN GIULIANO DI PUGLIA, Italy (AP) _ Emergency crews pulled out more bodies Friday from the rubble of a school destroyed by an earthquake that killed at least 28 people, wiping out the village’s first grade.

A day after the deadly quake struck, several more temblors shook the town, including two practically back-to-back jolts about 4 p.m. (1500 gmt), sending people into the streets. Grieving relatives fled in panic from the makeshift morgue in a sports complex where they had gone to identify the dead.

Clouds of dust went up from the town, but it was not clear if fresh damage had occured or if structures left precarious by Thursday’s quake had collapsed.

Enzo Boschi, head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, said the strongest of the aftershocks was about half as powerful as Thursday’s main quake. Preliminary magnitudes of the latest aftershocks were not immediately available.

Earlier, police headquarters in Campobasso, near the south-central town of San Giuliano Di Puglia, said a boy was found alive nearly 24 hours after Thursday’s quake struck. Police later said their information was incorrect and that the last survivor was a 9-year-old boy pulled out before dawn.

State television said rescuers initially thought the child was only badly injured, not dead.

Fire Chief Mario Morcone said 25 bodies had been pulled out of the school, nearly all of them children, and that two women died when their nearby homes collapsed.

He said two people remained under the rubble, and the body of one of them was subsequently extracted, bringing the overall toll to 28. It wasn’t clear if the last person under the rubble was a teacher or a third-grader.

Asked the chances of either one surviving, Morcone said: ``For the teacher there’s none, for the child, it’s really feeble.″

Crews used cranes, sledgehammers, blowtorches and their bare hands to remove the rubble.

When the quake struck Thursday morning there were 56 children at the school, as well as at least four teachers and two janitors. Many of the children who survived were in the school’s garden celebrating Halloween, an American import increasingly popular in Italy.

Clementina Simone, who was pulled out of the rubble, said she was teaching a geography lesson about the earthquakes this week near erupting Mount Etna in Sicily when the earth shook in San Giuliano di Puglia.

``I was told I had lost all of my nine first grade pupils,″ said Simone. ``I wanted to go back and help, but the rescuers wouldn’t let me.″

A rescue worker, in hard hat and covered with dust, said most of the dead older children were crushed at their desks as the roof crashed down upon them.

``A huge tragedy leaves us with only one certainty. It looks like the first grade class was wiped out,″ said a local priest, the Rev. Ferdinando Manna.

The school complex had nursery, elementary and middle school students.

When the town ran out of small, white wooden coffins reserved for children, children’s bodies were placed into big, mahogany ones usually used for adults. A sports complex became a makeshift morgue.

At dawn, emergency crews halted work for a few minutes in a bid to hear any sounds under the rubble, but there was silence. A 9-year-old boy identified only as Angelo had been rescued at 3:54 a.m., the last person brought out alive.

Simone, the first-grade teacher, recalled the terrifying fight for survival.

``I was holding the hand of a little boy who was saved with me,″ the teacher said. ``A large piece of concrete was hanging over my head and rescuers used an inflatable bag to move it.″

Pope John Paul II, appearing at his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, offered prayers for the victims and encouragement to survivors and the rescue crews.

As hope was dwindling for any more survivors, attention started shifting to why the school, built in 1954, collapsed in a quake whose 5.4 magnitude reflects a strength usually not enough to topple buildings built to modern earthquake standards.

The Campobasso area is 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the Naples area, which suffered a quake in 1980 which killed 2,570 people. San Giuliano Di Puglia is 225 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Rome.

Private TV5 said it interviewed an engineer, Enzo De Crescio from the Molise region, who said the school did not meet earthquake safety standards. He was quoted as saying that when the last quake plan was drawn up for the region in 1981, the town was not considered at risk for strong quakes.

However, an engineering professor at the Polytechnic institute in Bari, Vincenzo Cotecchia, was quoted as saying in Friday’s La Repubblica newspaper that the region certainly should be considered at risk for quakes.

Friday was a national holiday in Italy and regional government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

A consumer protection group, Codacons, said it had launched a campaign for safety in schools a few months ago right in the area hit by Thursday’s temblor. It said its nationwide survey of school buildings had found that 27 percent of buildings needed urgent work and that many schools lacked escape plans.

San Giuliano di Puglia, a village of about 1,195 people, was the hardest hit. Some 3,000 people in the region were left homeless, unable or unwilling to sleep in their damaged homes.

Anguished parents kept a vigil outside the wreckage, bundled in blankets to guard against the evening chill, with temperatures around 11C (52F).

One girl named Lilia told Italian television from her hospital bed, where she had her left hand in a small cast, that the children were drawing Pinocchio pictures, getting ready for their Halloween party, when the quake struck.

``I heard it crumble, and we screamed,″ she said. She said she hadn’t heard news her friend Melissa. ``She wasn’t near me. I didn’t even hear her voice. I don’t know if she’s still alive.″

The government’s forestry department conducted an aerial survey of the small area hardest hit and determined about 70 percent of the homes were damaged, with collapsed roofs or cracked walls.

The temblor was felt across the Adriatic in Croatia and in Rome.

Also Thursday, a 3.7 magnitude quake hit Mount Etna, the volcano in eastern Sicily which began erupting Sunday. Another quake, of the same magnitude, rattled western Sicily, off the coast of Palermo, Friday morning.

The National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome said the volcano area and mainland quakes _ separated by 440 kilometers (275 miles) _ weren’t connected.


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