Three dead, six missing in Sicily buildings blast

Three people were killed and six were missing after an explosion caused multiple residential buildings to collapse on the Italian island of Sicily, authorities said Sunday.

Police in Sicily
Italian police. Photo: Isabella BONOTTO / AFP

Two women were recovered alive from the rubble in the southern town of Ravanusa after the collapse on Saturday night, and rescuers and sniffer dogs were searching to locate the missing.

The death count from the disaster shifted throughout the morning, and Sicily’s regional civil protection unit confirmed at 11am Sunday on its Facebook page that three people were confirmed dead and not four, as they had reported earlier.

Television images showed a mass of rubble and wooden beams in a large empty space where the building once stood, with neighbouring buildings charred and damaged.

It was not immediately clear how many buildings collapsed in the explosion. Initial reports cited one apartment building but Sicily’s regional civil protection unit said on its website that “four buildings were involved” in the incident.

Local news reports said as many as 10 buildings were affected.

‘Huge shock wave’

Firefighters sorted through the tall pile of concrete, in which various ovens, air conditioners and other domestic appliances could be seen.

A “huge shock wave” from the explosion was felt 100 metres (330 feet) away, said Salvatore Cocina, head of Sicily’s civil protection unit.

The explosion, which occurred around 1930 GMT Saturday, was likely caused by a gas leak, said authorities, who have opened an investigation.

“The gas probably found a cavity in which to accumulate,” the head of firefighters in the province of Agrigento, Giuseppe Merendino, told the Rainews24 TV channel.

“This pocket of gas would then have found an accidental trigger: a car, an elevator, an electrical appliance.”

The two women who were uncovered alive under the rubble were found with
sniffer dogs, Merendino said.

“Everything is extremely difficult because the buildings have collapsed on top of each other and the rubble is overlapping,” he said, as quoted in the newspaper Giornale di Sicilia.

“We have to look for spaces between the rubble to recover the missing,” he said.

“Now, unfortunately, the dogs have given us no further indication and we have to search by other methods.”

Soon after the explosion Saturday night, Ravanusa Mayor Carmello D’Angelo appealed on Facebook for “everyone available who has shovels and bulldozers.”

“There has been a disaster,” he said.

About 50 people have been displaced, D’Angelo told Rainews24.

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Italian anti-mafia photographer Letizia Battaglia dies aged 87

Legendary Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, whose shots of bullet-riddled bodies captured the dark world of the Sicilian mafia, has died aged 87.

Italian anti-mafia photographer Letizia Battaglia dies aged 87

Prize-winning Battaglia, who would speed to the scene of murders in the 1980s on her Vespa to bear witness to the violence, blew away the romanticised and sanitised image of the Cosa Nostra.

Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando said her death late Wednesday had deprived his city, the Sicilian capital, of “an extraordinary woman” who played “an emblematic part in the process of freeing Palermo from the mafia’s control”.

Battaglia, an anti-mafia campaigner who became a local politician in Palermo and then a regional Sicilian assembly member, started out in the photo department of a local daily newspaper.

“You could have five murders in the same day,” she said in 2006, when a collection of her photographs of organised crime slayings went on show in a Rome exhibition.

“The work was exhausting but you couldn’t stand by with your arms folded, with our little mafia on our little island.

“We had to bear witness to this violence and the world had to know.”

An exhibition of Letizia Battaglia’s work at Palazzo Fontana di Trevi in Rome, in 2006. Photo by GIULIO NAPOLITANO / AFP

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini mourned Thursday, “A great photographer, a great Italian woman who, with her art and her photographs, engaged in important struggles of denunciation and civil commitment.”

Battaglia’s pictures show a small street in Palermo, the interior of an apartment, the white wall of a pork butcher’s shop, a garage ramp, the back of a bus, a car seat.

They all have one thing in common: captured in black and white is a body lying on the ground near a pool of blood, or a face torn apart by a bullet.

Letizia Battaglia’s ‘Arrest of Mafia boss Leoluca Gagarella, Palermo, 1980″ on exhibition in Rome in 2006. Photo by GIULIO NAPOLITANO / AFP

It was the era when the Corleone clan fought their way to power, headed by boss Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano – who were finally caught last month after decades on the run.

From judges regarded as too interfering or local politicians to young drug dealers, the “Palermo war” left hundreds dead in the space of a few years, often gunned down in broad daylight and in public places.

Battaglia’s pictures are unsparing. Faces of the dead are shown with eyes wide open, surprised by death. Friends and relatives lament, while onlookers crowd round the scene with expressions of curiosity or resignation.

In 2006, she said those bloody times may be gone, but the mafia is not.

The Rome exhibition, she said, was “a cry for help, because the consequences for our island of the mafia are as unbearable as ever”.