19 dead after explosion in Sicilian tourist resort

What was left of a six-story building in Collecfano, Sicily, collapsed and burned Wednesday morning as firefighters battled to save the life of a trapped resident from another damaged building. Three people were confirmed…

19 dead after explosion in Sicilian tourist resort

What was left of a six-story building in Collecfano, Sicily, collapsed and burned Wednesday morning as firefighters battled to save the life of a trapped resident from another damaged building.

Three people were confirmed dead by Monday night. Dozens of others were injured, according to a Sicilian police spokeswoman who wished to remain anonymous.

Three buildings were destroyed and four were badly damaged during the gas explosion in the seaside resort of Catania, according to police. At least two of the buildings were a total loss, and 50 people were evacuated to waiting ambulances and emergency vehicles.

‘It was hot’

Carlotta Sami, who was vacationing with her husband and two young children in an apartment that collapsed, said she heard a loud noise and looked out the window.

“Then it was hot. I got up, you know, and I could see the people outside, but you could see the heat,” she told CNN affiliate Rai News. “I closed the door, and I said, ‘F—, I have to leave.’”

Sami’s husband, Antonio, said that they could smell gas only before the explosion. “It was just a flicker, and you thought, ‘Are you going crazy? What’s going on?’”

Nicodemo Orra, who was working as a barman at the Santo Spirito Hotel at the time of the explosion, told CNN the noise was violent, like a “big bomb.”

Television footage showed firefighters helping residents climb out of windows.

‘Unbelievable horror’

The police spokeswoman, speaking by phone from Catania, said the scene had calmed considerably since Wednesday, when dozens of people were trapped and presumed dead.

Giorgio Genovesi, the director of Catania’s Metropole Hospital, said patients were “getting better” and were not in critical condition, but there were still about 30 injured, most with “repetitive injuries” like broken bones and lacerations.

“It was an unbelievable horror” when the building collapsed, Genovesi said.

The origin of the gas was not known, Genovesi said, although traces of gas were found at the scene of the explosion and two adjoining buildings.

Information on the extent of any gas leaks is still unclear. Gas stations within a two-kilometer radius were shut down and tests were performed, Genovesi said.

Portable gas pumps are now being used to evacuate residents of nearby buildings, Genovesi said. Firefighters are continuing to search the wreckage.

‘The cleanup begins’

Early reports of large-scale smoke-filled conditions on Wednesday had prompted rescue operations that had already left some residents unable to find alternative lodging for the night.

By the evening, Catania was able to reopen its airport, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni declared an official state of emergency.

“The mayor declared the construction of the city a closed emergency,” Genovesi said. “The cleanup begins. We have to have time to help the displaced people who are searching for accommodation.”

Search and rescue teams from Catania and Palermo were working at the scene.

A police team has been called in from the capital, Rome, Genovesi said.

Catania and Palermo are Sicily’s second and third largest cities, respectively.

Giuseppe De Amicis, director of emergency management in Palermo, said that crews on the ground in the city were planning to “clean and move all the rubble to start demolition.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Italian government offered its support, promising technical expertise.

Sicily’s President Sergio Mattarella sent a message of condolence to the victims’ families and commended firefighters for their prompt actions.

The state of emergency was declared as a precautionary measure, which will last for three months, Genovesi said.

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