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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 19:48 GMT
Witnesses describe earthquake terror
Rescuers on the roof of the school
A massive search for survivors is underway
Fifty-seven children and staff were trapped in rubble after their school collapsed when a violent earthquake rocked the Italian village of San Giuliano di Puglia.


More than half of the school collapsed, all around we have a crowd of worried parents

Giovanni Di Marzo, local resident
The earthquake, measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale, was felt throughout the region.

Witnesses said that the main tremor lasted between five and six seconds.

Local residents described a humming sound just prior to it and then as the ground began to shake they ran into the streets in panic.

Distraught residents

An Italian camera crew were filming in the nearby village of Montelongo when the earthquake hit.

They said that that they did not have time to watch the effects of the tremors as they rushed to help the frightened residents.

Parents outside the school
Anxious parents are forced to stand and wait for news

"You can see, there is dust and rocks in the middle of the street, people are desperate, some of them lived in houses that were rather run down, but they were their homes," the crew's reporter said.

"All of them are elderly, and their terror is understandable - we experienced it too."

Confusion

Buildings in the historic town of Campobasso collapsed as the tremors shook the region.

"I could feel the earth literally moving under my feet. The lamps were swinging from the buildings. People were in shock," said Gianfranco Di Ruta, a local bar owner.


The town looks as if it had been shelled. From what I could see, not a single house in town can be described as safe

Italian reporter

But it was in the village of San Giuliano di Puglia, the scene of the school collapse, that the effects were worst felt.

"The situation is black here, the whole village has been hard hit," said local resident Luciano Gliacurto.

"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 to their children," he added.

Parent's agony

Another resident who witnessed the collapse of the school, Giovanni Di Marzo, said that the distraught parents were surrounding the school, calling out the names of their children.

An old woman sits near the remains of her house
Many elderly residents have lost their homes

"More than half of the school collapsed, all around we have a crowd of worried parents. The situation is truly dramatic," he said.

The children, who are aged between three and 11, had been gathered together to celebrate Halloween when the roof caved in.

"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.

Growing panic

Television footage of the crowd of desperate onlookers showed other children and adults dressed in Halloween costumes.

A child watches the rescue effort
The children had been celebrating Halloween

A massive rescue operation is now underway, but for those whose loved ones are trapped under the rubble any effort simply cannot happen fast enough.

One woman at the scene became increasingly agitated, shouting to the rescue workers:

"Fifty-four young children... Christ, do you realise what's happening here, do you realise what it means to have 54 children buried in there?"

But it is not just the school which was affected.

"You can also see collapsed houses in town. The situation here in town is dramatic - the town looks as if it had been shelled. From what I could see, not a single house in town can be described as safe," said one Italian reporter at the scene.


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30 Oct 02 | Europe
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
29 Aug 01 | Europe
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