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Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 03:31 GMT

World: Europe

Italy building collapse death toll soars

An unknown number of people are trapped under the rubble

The death toll from the collapse of an Italian apartment block in southern Italy has risen to 34.

The search for survivors has continued since the building collapsed before dawn on Thursday - but hopes are fading of finding anyone alive.

The BBC's Frances Kennedy: "The homes of 3.5m Italians may be at risk"
Several bodies retrieved from the ruins were blackened, caught by a slow-burning fire seeping through the underground garage where many of the victims are believed to be trapped.

Some 75 people are thought to have been in the six-storey block when it collapsed.

On Friday the Italian government announced plans to enforce a survey of all buildings put up in the last three decades, listing their date, modifications and condition.

A survey by an independent research agency suggests that the homes of more than 3m Italians may be at risk, two-thirds of them because of poor building materials or modifications made without authorisation.

'He's alive'

Rescue officials believe the chance of finding survivors is diminishing.

[ image: Rescuers listen for voices in the rubble]
Rescuers listen for voices in the rubble
"Every minute we lose could mean the end of someone's life," said Salvatore Distaso, President of the Puglia region in which Foggia is located.

Rescue workers toiled through the night under spotlights, probing the tangled mass of concrete and brick.

The last success came in the early evening, when a teenage boy was pulled free, battered but safe. His voice had been heard under the rubble by the rescuers.

After a day of seeing only covered bodies on stretchers go by, the dusty search crews stopped digging and shouted "He's alive!"

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke: "There are still dozens unaccounted for"
Distraught relatives gathered in neighbouring buildings in the hope that their loved ones too would be found. Some dug with their hands.

Around 17 people are reported to have survived - one family escaped unhurt after fleeing when they heard the walls start to crack.

The collapse reduced the apartment building in a working class suburb to a pile of rubble no more than one storey high.

[ image:  ]
A judicial investigation into possible criminal responsibilities has been opened.

"Someone is going to have to explain how this happened," said the Mayor of Foggia, Paolo Agostinacchio.

There are two main theories about the cause of the disaster. The collapse could have been due to structural failure. The block dates from the 1960s, when Italy's economic boom meant housing went up fast and building regulations were often ignored.

But there are also suspicions that subsidence of the ground on which the flats were built might be to blame.

Warning sounds

The building superintendent confirmed several tenants heard creaking minutes before the collapse and tried to alert their neighbours.

But there was scant warning of the impending disaster.

[ image:  ]
Fire Chief Paolo Moccia said his department got a call from the building supervisor three minutes before the collapse.

In Rome, the Senate observed a minute of silence for the victims while Interior Minister Rosa Russo Jervolino headed for Foggia to oversee the rescue effort.

"This is a true tragedy involving young families that has brought the city to its knees," said the Archbishop of Foggia, Monsignor Domenico Ambrosio.

A similar tragedy struck in Rome last December, killing 27 people.

Foggia is a city of 150,000 people 310km (200 miles) south-east of Rome in Puglia province.

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