| A woman consoles a child in San Giuliano di Puglia, Italy. (Reuters)
San Giuliano di Puglia (Italy), Nov. 2 (Reuters): Italian prosecutors opened an investigation today to determine why a school was reduced to rubble in an earthquake, wiping out most of a town’s six and seven-year-old children.
Tremors of up to 3.7 on the Richter scale today shook buildings around the medieval town of San Giuliano di Puglia, where the quake smashed the Francesco Iovine primary school on Thursday, killing 26 children and a teacher, the Prime Minister’s office said. One tremor jolted northeastern Italy.
On All Souls Day, when Roman Catholics around the world commemorate the dead, distraught parents in the town in the south-central region of Molise struggled to cope with the loss of their children after the strongest quake in Italy since 1997.
Aerial shots of the farming town showed many buildings in the centre, some of them hundreds of years old, were damaged. Only the school collapsed like a house of cards, reduced to a heap of concrete in a few seconds.
Some 60 children were in the school when the quake struck, but rescue workers clawing through the rubble for 36 hours with their bare hands managed to pull out 35 people alive.
“We have nothing to say that could point the finger of blame,” Andrea Cataldi, a lawyer in the public prosecutor’s office of the nearby town of Larino said during a visit to San Giuliano di Puglia. Building regulations were looser in the 1950s, when the school was built, although the region was prone to earthquakes.
Some experts said the school’s walls were not strong enough to carry the weight of the heavy concrete in the roof and in the walls of new classrooms added on later to the second storey.
Anger mounted across the country over the disaster. Two elderly women were crushed to death elsewhere in the town of 1,200, and at least 3,000 people in the region were made homeless by the quake and a further strong tremor yesterday.
The Corriere della Sera daily reported that the national earthquake service had drawn up a report in 1998 reclassifying quake risks and saying the area around San Giuliano di Puglia was threatened, but that no measures had been taken as a result.
Pope John Paul prayed for the dead children in the Vatican crypts last evening, on the eve of All Souls Day.
Some 850 anguished residents of the town spent a cold and wretched night in a hillside tent camp 2 km from their homes, after authorities said the buildings were unsafe.