Tuesday 23 January 2018

Cheers as young brothers rescued from rubble after earthquake on Italian island

Rescuers pull seven-month-old Pasquale from the rubble of a collapsed building in Casamicciola (Ansa/AP)
Rescuers pull seven-month-old Pasquale from the rubble of a collapsed building in Casamicciola (Ansa/AP)
Rescuers pull a boy from a collapsed building in Casamicciola, on the island of Ischia (Ansa/AP)
Firefighters pull a boy from a collapsed building in Casamicciola on the island of Ischia (Vigili del Fuoco/AP)

Italian firefighters have freed a seven-month-old baby and then his two older brothers from the rubble of their home after it collapsed when a 4.0-magnitude earthquake struck the resort island of Ischia.

At least two people were killed in the quake, while 39 were injured and 2,600 left homeless.

The fatalities were an elderly woman who was struck by masonry falling from a church and a second woman who was inside a building that collapsed.

In the hard-hit town of Casamicciola, dozens of firefighters worked for 14 hours to dig the Toscano brothers out of their home, where they were trapped alone after their father was rescued and their pregnant mother managed to escape.

Cheers went up with each rescue, which firefighters confirmed with exclamation mark-punctuated tweets. The first was baby Pasquale, who was shown on a video appearing alert as he was passed to safety.

It took another seven hours to free the middle brother, eight-year-old Matthias, who was covered with cement dust as he was loaded on to a stretcher and into an ambulance, and two more hours to free the eldest, 11-year-old Ciro, who was credited with helping save Matthias.

Their parents were waiting for Ciro at the hospital's emergency room, his mother sitting in a wheelchair next to his father Alessandro, whose hands were bandaged from a fracture.

"It was a terrible night. I don't have words to explain it," Mr Toscano told RAI state television while rescuers were working to free the older two boys. "The entire second floor of the house collapsed, and the firefighters pulled me out. They were great."

He said his wife was in the bathroom and managed to escape through the window, but the older boys were in the bedroom in the family home while the baby was in a playpen in the kitchen.

Hospital officials said all three boys were doing well, with the older two being treated for dehydration and the oldest for a fracture to his right foot.

"For three children saved from the rubble, we have witnessed a true miracle. They are miraculously healthy," said Virginia Scarfato, director of the Rizzoli hospital in Ischia.

The head of the financial police on the island said Ciro helped save Matthias by pushing him under the bed.

"The gesture surely saved them both," said Andrea Gentile. "Then with the handle of a broom he knocked against the rubble, making them heard by rescuers."

Firefighters' spokesman Luca Cari said they maintained voice contact with the two boys to keep them calm during the complex rescue operation to create an opening through the collapsed ceiling. The boys were given bottles of water and a flashlight.

The quake hit during the height of the tourist season, with the island's population of 64,000 ballooning by another 150,000 at the time the quake struck.

Italian television showed many visitors taking refuge in parks and sleeping under blankets in the aftermath while authorities began organising ferries to take them back to the mainland.

Tourism officials said the damage was localised in two towns, and said much of the island was business as usual on Tuesday.

Together with the nearby island of Capri, Ischia - in the Gulf of Naples - is a favourite island getaway for the European jet set, famed in particular for its thermal waters.

Casamicciola was the epicentre of an 1883 earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people.

Images from the latest quake zone show many buildings collapsed into rubble, while others show signs of structural damage with deep cracks in exterior walls, and cars overturned.

The extent of the damage for a relatively light quake raised questions about the quality of construction on the island in the seismically active area off Naples and the active volcano Vesuvius, and the prevalence of illegally built structures.

AP

Press Association

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