Last person missing found dead in Sicily building explosion

The last person still missing following a massive explosion in Sicily that destroyed four residential buildings was found dead in the wreckage Tuesday, firefighters said, bringing the death toll to nine.

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

Firefighters “found the sadly lifeless body of the last missing person,” from the blast that occurred in the southern Sicilian town of Ravanusa Saturday night, Italy’s national fire brigade said on Twitter.

The discovery came half an hour after rescuers said they had found a body of one of the last two remaining people believed to be still trapped underneath the piles of rubble.

The weekend explosion wiped out residential buildings, including a four-story apartment.

READ ALSO: Search continues for two missing after building explosion in Sicily

Rescuers, aided by search and rescue dogs, have been searching for survivors since the evening of the explosion, but only two women were found alive under the rubble, on Sunday.

About 100 people remain homeless following the incident, as authorities cleared out residents from neighbouring buildings that were damaged or deemed dangerous.

Pope Francis on Tuesday sent his condolences and “heartfelt closeness” to the victims and their families, while expressing his “appreciation for those who have done their best in rescue operations”.

Before confirmation of the last two bodies pulled from the wreckage, local media had reported that the two missing people were a father and son.

An investigation has been opened into the cause of the explosion, which authorities say was most likely caused by a gas leak.

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 having heard complaints of a smell of gas.

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, 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”.