Pregnant nurse among seven dead in Sicily building collapse
Rescuers were searching Monday for two missing people among the rubble of collapsed buildings on the Italian island of Sicily after seven people including a pregnant nurse died in a suspected gas explosion.
The blast tore through four residential buildings on Saturday evening in the southern town of Ravanusa, with one survivor describing it “as if a bomb had gone off”.
Around 100 emergency workers have been picking their way through the rubble ever since, in what firefighters said was a “delicate and complex” operation.
After four bodies were pulled out at dawn, Monday’s efforts focused on finding the last two missing people.
Media reports suggest the victims and the missing are all related. Among the dead was a 30-year-old nurse, named as Selene, who was nine months pregnant and due to give birth within days.
The blast levelled four structures, including a four-storey apartment building, in the central residential district of the town of nearly 11,000 inhabitants, according to Italy’s civil protection agency.
Images from the scene showed a mass of concrete rubble, wooden beams and mangled steel in a large empty space, with neighbouring buildings charred and damaged.
The nurse’s body was found alongside that of her husband Giuseppe Carmina, and his parents. The couple had been visiting the soon-to-be grandparents on the third floor of their building.
One of the first victims to be found was retired high school teacher Pietro Carmina, who had recently recovered from a life-threatening case of coronavirus, media reports said.
– ‘A tremendous roar‘ –
Two women were recovered alive from the debris early on Sunday after being found by sniffer dogs, but rescuers have not heard further signs of life.
An investigation has been opened into the cause of the explosion, which authorities said was most probably a gas leak.
Local resident Calogero Bonanno said, “neighbours had told me there was a smell of gas”.
“I heard a tremendous roar as if a bomb had gone off or a plane had crashed into the house,” he was cited as saying by Italian media.
“Then the window frames exploded. We immediately went down to the street, there was fire everywhere, rubble all around,” he said after fleeing along with his wife, three children and in-laws.
“It’s a miracle we’re alive.”
Natural gas distributor Italgas said in a statement it had received no reports of gas leaks in the week leading up to the incident.
No construction work was underway in the section of pipeline affected in the blast and the town’s distribution network was fully inspected in both 2020 and 2021, it said.
The Repubblica daily said the town’s gas pipelines — installed 36 years ago — were among the oldest in Italy and ran through unstable ground susceptible to soil erosion and landslides.
Sicily, one of Italy’s poorest regions, suffers from sub-standard and ageing infrastructure.