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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 19:04 GMT
Grief consumes Italian quake village
Three women weep after the earthquake
The village has been devastated by the earthquake

The fire fighters, many of them filthy and exhausted worked on in the November sun.

They were concentrating on one small area of the crushed school - passing bricks hand to hand, bucket by bucket.

Fabrizio Colcerasa, Italy's most senior fire officer expressed his own horror at the tragedy.

"It's very difficult to cope with such kind of a building during an earthquake - because we don't know when an earthquake can come," he said.

An man takes his daughter to safety after an aftershock
The tremors continue in San Giuliano
"And then the whole thing is an emotional thing because especially so many kids - that's a horrible thing."

Around the edges of the smashed school a bulldozer clears some of the rubble.

Elsewhere in the town only flimsy red and white police tape marks the boundary between the unsafe rubble-heaped houses and the streets.

Some, even in outwardly inhabitable homes, are leaving and they are distraught.

Powerful aftershocks

As the afternoon wears on the focus of the grieving shifts from the rescue site to the temporary morgue.

Down the road and around a field is the sports centre where the white coffins of the children and the teak coffins of the adults lay.

Some of the dead children, now surrounded by their families, are still dressed in the Halloween costumes they were wearing when the roof came down on them.

The air inside is filled with the simple terror of loss. It was overwhelming and then suddenly people were running out of that and other buildings screaming as another tremor hit.


The houses - who cares about them - it's the children. Who can give a mother back her child?"

Woman at the scene
It is 1610 (1710 GMT) and we have just experienced quite a powerful aftershock.

People have been shouting and screaming with dismay that it seems to have been happening all over again. There were a few minor injuries.

It looks as if a woman very close to me has fainted, just with the disbelief that it is happening all over again.

Bricks have been shaken loose from houses and down by the school, there is a cloud of dust from rubble that has been dislodged.

Search for answers

It has been 30-hours of misery in San Giuliano - 30-hours of railing against the injustice.

One woman at the scene cries, "Who cares about the houses? We were born poor, we're still poor and we'll die poor. The houses - who cares about them - it's the children. Who can give a mother back her child?"

There is an expectation that the anguish will turn soon enough to anger at the presumption of shoddy building work which led to the collapse of so many of the houses, if not the school itself.

But as Stefan Di Mistura from the Italian Red Cross told me - it is too soon now.

"They're not angry, they're just desperate. This is terrible because there is nothing worse than knowing that your child is under those stones and he was eight years old - because that's the average age - and he was sitting in school on a happy day today and suddenly the roof collapsed over him," he said.

The search for culprits is bound to begin, but for the moment, the people of San Giuliano are all consumed by grief.


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