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Saturday, 2 November, 2002, 22:44 GMT
Prosecutors probe Italy school collapse
Earthquake victim carries his belongings by a row of tents near San Giuliano Di Puglia
Many evacuated families are now living in tents
State prosecutors have arrived at the ruins of a southern Italian village to start investigating whether to bring charges over the deaths of 26 young children who were killed when their school collapsed in an earth quake.

Salvaged books at the site of the school
More than 1,200 people have been evacuated from the village
Preparations are taking place for the mass funeral of the children and their teacher which is to take place in the village on Sunday.

The prosecutors say they will investigate whether manslaughter or criminal negligence charges should be brought after the collapse of the primary school in San Giuliano di Puglia.

The Italian Government is to hold an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday morning to vote for new funds for earthquake relief.

Last respects

Around 1,200 people have been evacuated from the mediaeval town amid fears of further tremors - some of which were almost as strong as Thursday's quake which measured 5.4 on the Richter scale.

Open in new window : Italy quake
Pictures from the scene of the school tragedy

A total of 8,000 people have now been evacuated from towns across southern Italy, with families taken to makeshift tent cities set up by civil authorities.

Sunday's funeral is to be attended by Italian head of state Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The families of the dead have been paying their last respects to their children, who are laid out in tiny coffins, their favourite football jerseys, teddy bears and family photographs placed beside them in the village's sports centre.

The school's gym, which became the children's mortuary, will be used for the services as the village church was also damaged by the quake.

Unanswered questions

There is rising anger among local people following the discovery that local bureaucrats had failed to take any action despite the area being designated a medium risk earthquake zone as recently as four years ago.


After so much work, illness and sacrifice we have ended up in a camp and children have been killed under a school

Evacuated villager
However, prosecutor Maria Teresa Perna said no individual was yet under investigation for the collapse of the 50-year-old school, which had only recently been modernised.

She has gone to San Giuliano to inspect the school where the children and one teacher died. Two women were killed elsewhere in the village.

Grief-stricken villagers have been demanding why the building collapsed when most others in San Giuliano were damaged but remained standing.

They also want to know if the school should have been closed and the children sent home after earlier, smaller tremors.

State of shock

A BBC correspondent who has seen the devastation said it was clear that it would be months before some people could move back into their homes.

Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's civil protection department, told Italian radio almost the entire village would certainly have to be rebuilt.

"After so much work, illness and sacrifice we have ended up in a camp and children have been killed under a school," said one grandmother as she was evacuated.

Italy has declared a state of emergency to speed aid and funding to the areas worst affected around San Giuliano in the Molise region.

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The BBC's Brian Barron
"There is to be a government inquiry into the tragedy"

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See also:

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