Parents scrambled on the rubble praying their child was still alive
IT WAS a scramble for hope in desperate circumstances, the race against time made worse with the moans of the dying and injured.
The search continued throughout last night, with some volunteers using their bare hands to help emergency services find children trapped in a village nursery reduced to rubble during a strong earthquake.
Only a short time earlier, pupils at the school in San Giuliano di Puglia, a small village 50 miles north-east of Naples, were enjoying a Halloween party.
But as the quake, which measured 5.4 on the Richter scale, struck at 11:40am local time, the roof of the school collapsed, sending tons of concrete and metal crashing down on top of the 57 people inside. Most of them were children aged three to six.
Within minutes, terrified parents were rushing to the school. Some broke down as they saw the extent of the devastation, some began frantically clawing at the debris in a bid to try to find their children.
Luciano Gliacurto, who lives in the village, said: "The situation is black here, the whole village has been hard hit.
"It’s all very confusing but the parents of the children who were in the school are all there trying to find out what happened ."
The emergency services said 33 children and teachers were pulled from the rubble alive, but more remained unaccounted for.
Rescue workers using sniffer dogs to search for those trapped described the situation as "very critical", saying that a second section of the school roof caved in a few hours after the quake struck.
Many said they heard groans of pain and sobbing coming from beneath the rubble.
Spurred by voices from those still trapped inside, workers used cranes, blow-torches and their bare hands to dig through the night, removing roof tiles and slabs of concrete from the rubble searching for survivors, officials said.
After nightfall, teams guided by flashlights and floodlights rescued five dust-covered children from the devastation and sent them to nearby hospitals, but still more remained inside.
Antonio Licursi, a paramedic, covered in dust as he emerged from the pit, said he believed many more children continued to lie trapped inside. The hope remained firm as the search continued.
"That’s what we’re basing the search on. We’re still hearing voices," Police Colonel Antonio Ianuzzi said.
Throughout the day, television footage showed firefighters bringing out dusty, dazed children from beneath the cement slabs as parents and residents, some with their faces painted for the Halloween festivities, looked on in anguish.
Tonino Scarlatelli, a local government official, said: "They were all together in the school because they were having a Halloween party."
He warned the death toll of thirteen children could rise, adding: "Rescue operations will be more difficult now, with the dark." Firefighters said two women were also killed when the earthquake hit their homes.
In Campobasso, the city at the centre of the region, scores of residents fled their homes when the quake struck.
"I could feel the earth literally moving under my feet," said Gianfranci Di Ruta, who runs a bar in the city. "The lamps were swinging from the buildings. People were in shock." Cracks gaped in building walls, and chunks of plaster fell from ceilings, Italian news reports said. About 70 per cent of the homes in the region were damaged, many with collapsed roofs.
The earthquake was devastating for the entire region. A major highway bridge was damaged, hampering rescue efforts.
A railway line was also closed after a viaduct was damaged, and many power and phone lines were put out of action. Hospitals as far away as Foggia, 45 miles to the east, were offering blood to the Campobasso region but were hampered because of the fallen phone lines, officials said.
A church in one of the surrounding villages collapsed, but there were no reports of casualties.
Reports from Campobasso also said there were people trapped inside a vehicle, which was crushed when a nearby building fell apart from the force of the quake.
The quake had its epicentre in Campobasso, which suffered structural damage, as did five other villages, but it was felt in Naples, where 2,570 people were killed in an earthquake in 1980, and even in Croatia.
Writer Alexander Hellemans said he felt the doors and furniture shaking in his sixth floor office. "There was some kind of disquiet among people because they remembered the earthquake 20 years ago," he said.
The Italian interior ministry said helicopters and at least 200 rescue workers had been dispatched to the area.
Psychologists were also dispatched to counsel parents enraged that their children were allowed to go to school despite a smaller quake on Wednesday night.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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Wind direction: West
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