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Rescue teams, dogs, comb Sicily mudslide

October 04, 2009|Associated Press

ROME — Rescue workers dug for a second day Saturday through mud and debris, searching for about 30 people believed caught in a mudslide that has killed at least 21 in Sicily.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he feared that the death toll from Italy's worst mudslides in a decade could rise to 50. Berlusconi is expected to survey the area by helicopter today, his office said.

Rivers of mud unleashed by heavy rains flooded parts of Messina, a city in eastern Sicily, on Friday, sweeping away cars and collapsing buildings. Hundreds of people were left homeless and about 80 were injured.

With the rain letting up and clear weather in the forecast, officials expressed hope that the worst was over.

However, some roads were still impassable and the terrain unstable.

Rescue teams were digging with bulldozers, shovels and bare hands through the mud. Some rescuers were aided by sniffer dogs. Firefighters cleared mud from major roads.

One village remained isolated, reachable only by air, said Luca Spoletini of the Civil Protection Department.

Meanwhile, rescue teams managed to create a roadway to another small town that had been inaccessible.

A few hundred people were evacuated from unsafe homes and moved to hotels in Messina being used as rescue centers, Spoletini said. Some older residents did not want to abandon their homes and had to be persuaded to go.

About 9 inches of rain fell in just three hours during the storm.

But officials acknowledged that deforestation and unregulated development, which is widespread in Sicily and other parts of southern Italy, had weakened the soil and contributed to the mudslides.

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