Quake collapses Italian school

Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 1:00 a.m.
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Unidentified residents wrapped in blankets, bottom left, look on as rescuers remove the rubble left after the collapse of an elementary school building, after an earthquake hit San Giuliano di Puglia, near Campobasso Southern Italy, early Friday, Nov. 1, 2002.

The Associated Press
SAN GIULIANO DI PUGLIA, Italy - An earthquake jolted south-central Italy on Thursday, sending a nursery school roof crashing down on a class of preschoolers during a lunchtime Halloween party. At least 22 people were killed, nearly all of them children at the school.
Driven on by faint voices coming from the rubble, frantic rescuers worked through the night to save more than a dozen children who remained trapped after the 5.4 magnitude quake struck the Molise region, shaking the town of Campobasso and surrounding villages northeast of Naples.
San Giuliano di Puglia, a village of 1,195 people, was the hardest hit, with several buildings damaged. The ANSA news agency said 3,000 people in the region fled damaged homes.
The yellow schoolhouse in San Giuliano di Puglia collapsed entirely on itself as 56 children and their teachers celebrated the holiday.
Anguished parents rushed to the scene and kept a vigil overnight into today, bundled in blankets to guard against the evening chill. They watched as rescuers used cranes, blowtorches and bare hands to claw at the debris, removing roof tiles and slabs of concrete while listening for the faint sounds of trapped children.
Applause burst from the tense crowd after one difficult rescue. Residents cried, "Giovanni! Giovanni!" when the little boy was brought out on a stretcher.
"As soon as he came out he called me 'Papi' like he always does," the boy's father told RAI state television, which did not give the man's name.
"I immediately saw he was in good condition. He told me there are many other children still alive, a little shocked but still alive, so the hope is still there that they can save more."
"I thank God for this gift he has given me," he said.
As of dawn today, 26 children and three teachers had been rescued.
State television said Friday that the death toll had risen to 22 - 20 dead inside the school and two women in nearby homes.
The previous toll from the school was 15 - 13 children and two teachers. The state television report did not provide a breakdown on the new figure but very few other teachers were believed in the building. Earlier news reports had said that more than a dozen children and one adult remained in the rubble.
The bodies of the dead were being housed in a makeshift morgue at the town's sports center, where family members came to identify the dead, police officials outside the center said.
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."
Paramedic Antonio Licursi, covered in dust as he emerged from the pit, said he believed at least another dozen children were still trapped inside and officials said they still heard voices late into the night.
"That's what we're basing the search on. We're still hearing voices," police Col. Antonio Ianuzzi said late Thursday at the scene.
Tearful parents stood nearby, blocked from the site by a police barrier, sometimes calling out the names of their children. Others waited at nearby hospitals.
"They were all together in the school because they were having a Halloween party," said Tonino Scarlatelli, an official in the Molise regional president's office.
"Many buildings have collapsed throughout the village, we fear there might be other victims outside of the school," he added.
Rescue teams poured into the tiny village from nearby regions, and Premier Silvio Berlusconi arrived late Thursday to follow the developments firsthand.
Some of the rescued students told Italian television that older children from the village had come to their class Thursday to teach them about Halloween, an increasingly popular holiday in Italy.
While dozens of children were inside the school at the time of the collapse, others had moved out to the garden for the festivities, perhaps saving lives, news reports said.
The school, built in 1954, had been renovated several times over the years, private TG5 television said. Structures near the school remained standing, but some had large cracks in them. Elsewhere in town, the quake toppled entire buildings.
The government's forestry department conducted an aerial survey and said about 70 percent of homes in the area were damaged, with collapsed roofs or cracked walls, the AGI news agency said.
"The scenario is devastating," AGI quoted forestry Cmdr. Luigi Falasca as saying. "Fortunately, the damage is limited to a restricted area."
The quake's epicenter was in Campobasso, about 50 miles northeast of Naples and about 140 miles southeast of Rome.
The initial temblor was followed by at least two aftershocks, one with a 2.9 magnitude and another with a 3.7 magnitude - all with their epicenter around Campobasso, said Marco Ludovici, an official with the Civil Defense department in Rome.
The temblor was felt across the Adriatic in Croatia, particularly on high floors of apartment buildings, the Croatian Seismological Institute said.
Also Thursday, a 3.7 magnitude quake hit Mount Etna, the Sicilian volcano that began erupting Sunday. No damage was reported.
The National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome said the two quakes were not connected. The island of Sicily is about 275 miles southwest of Campobasso. The Etna quake was related to the volcano's activity, officials said.
In 1980, an earthquake in the area of Naples killed 2,570 people and left 30,000 homeless in the southern Campania and Basilicata regions.

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