Earthquake kills children at nursery school in Italy

Sunday, November 3, 2002

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 13 children in the school and two women in nearby homes were killed.

Driven on by faint voices coming from the rubble, frantic rescuers worked into 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 were left homeless, unable or unwilling to sleep in their damaged homes.

The yellow schoolhouse in San Giuliano di Puglia collapsed entirely on itself, as 56 children and their teachers celebrated.

Anguished parents kept a vigil outside the wreckage, bundled in blankets to guard against the evening chill, with temperatures around 52 degrees.

So far, 26 children and three teachers have been rescued. Italian news reports said more than a dozen children and one adult remained in the rubble 12 hours after the quake struck.

The bodies of 13 children and two adults were being housed in a makeshift morge at the town's sports center, where family members came to identify the dead, carabinieri officials outside the center said.

Applause burst from the tense crowd after one difficult rescue late Thursday. 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.

Rescuers used cranes, blowtorches and their bare hands to claw at the debris Thursday night, removing roof tiles and slabs of concrete while listening for the faint sounds of children trapped inside.

"That's what we're basing the search on. We're still hearing voices," Police Col. Antonio Ianuzzi said late Thursday.

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."

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