Search continues for two missing after building explosion in Sicily

Rescuers in Sicily were searching on Tuesday for the bodies of two people still missing after a suspected gas explosion toppled four buildings, killing at least seven people.

Firefighters at the site of the blast in Ravanusa, Sicily, on Monday.
Firefighters at the site of the blast in Ravanusa, Sicily, on Monday. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco (Italian fire and rescue service)

The blast on Saturday evening in the southern town of Ravanusa levelled four structures, including a four-storey apartment building, in the central residential district of the town of nearly 11,000 inhabitants, according to the civil protection unit.

The two people missing were said in media reports to be a father and son aged 88 and 59 years old.

Two women were recovered alive from the debris early on Sunday, but rescuers have not heard further signs of life.

READ ALSO: Four more bodies pulled from collapsed building in Sicily

Rescuers on Monday found four more bodies in the rubble raising the official death toll to seven, officials said.

Pope Francis sent his condolences and “heartfelt closeness” to the victims and their families following the blast, which left over 100 people homeless.

He also expressed his “appreciation for those who have done their best in rescue operations”, during which dozens of firefighters have combed night and day through the rubble with the help of sniffer dogs.

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 it had received no reports of gas leaks in the week leading up to the incident, despite local residents reporting hearing complaints of a smell of gas.

No construction work was under way in the section of pipeline affected in the blast and the town’s distribution network was fully inspected in both 2020 and 2021, Italgas said.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica 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.

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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”.