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Italian islanders ache for cruise victims

By Trisha Thomas

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22 2012 11:30 a.m. MST

A man takes pictures of items of the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia, on the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. Rescuers on Sunday resumed searching the above-water section of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise liner, but choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part, where officials have said there could be bodies. Civil protection officials said that until the waves slack off, divers would not swim into the submerged part of the vessel just off the port of Giglio, a tiny Island off the Tuscan coast.

Pier Paolo Cito, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

GIGLIO, Italy — Natives of the tiny Italian island of Giglio renowned for its beauty as far back as ancient Roman times hail from hardy stock whose distant ancestors survived ruthless raids by pirates and where even today many eke out a living from crystal-clear but often perilous seas.

But when the islanders gaze out on the capsized wreck of the Costa Concordia, lying lifelessly on its side just outside their port, like some mournful beached giant creature from the sea, they pray and sigh in sorrow.

"Mamma mia, please excuse me, it makes me so emotional. Mamma mia," said Ornella Monti, whose house on Giglio, near the customs police station at the port, looks squarely out at the shipwreck.

"I had it all in front of my house," a weeping Monti said Sunday, as she lit electric candles in San Lorenzo church. "Dear God, help us."

"Let's give a lot of light for this girl," said Monti, lighting another candle and referring to a 5-year-old Dayana Arlotti, an Italian girl, who along with her father, is among the missing in the Jan. 13 accident.

Many of the 1,500 islanders, a tough breed of fishermen and their families who repair fishing nets by hand in the winter and take tourists out in painted wooden boats after a night of fishing at sea, were still shaken by the tragedy which unfolded in front of their eyes.

Women rushed out with blankets when shivering survivors stepped off lifeboats or staggered up rocks after swimming ashore when the evacuation of the 4,200 passengers and crew turned chaotic. Islanders offered children milk and biscuits, and invited stunned families into their homes to warm and calm themselves.

On a table in the church where Mass was celebrated Sunday were an array of items that surviving passengers had brought into San Lorenzo the night of the shipwreck — life vests, helmets, pieces of rope — reminders of the precarious nature of life at sea that islanders, 15 kilometers (11 miles) across from the mainland, know well.

Monti's apology for her tears contrasted sharply with the unabashed gawking of hundreds of mainlanders who hopped ferries in Porto Santo Stefano on the Tuscan coast to visit Giglio over the weekend. Clambering over portside rocks, they snapped photos and made videos of the wreck to bring back home with them macabre mementos.

"They called us jackals," said Silvana Pasqualetti, of the islanders after she and her family set foot on the dock to view the wreckage. With her husband, adult son, and the son's girlfriend and niece, the family set out before daybreak from their home in Viterbo north of Rome on the mainland for Giglio.

"It's something you don't see every day," said her son, Massimo Menghini, 29, as the family caught an evening ferry back to the mainland. "Your jaw drops open when you see it in person, because it's history," he said

Pasqualetti added that she didn't "feel like a jackal" because "this macabre tourism brings tourist revenue to the islanders," whom she described as "exquisite" people.

From atop Giglio's highest peak, nearly 500 meters (1,650 feet) above sea level, and aided by binoculars, spectators to the tragedy can spy stacks of lounge chairs, chained together on the deck near the ship's swimming pool and kiddie pool, emptied of their water when the Concordia pitched over some 90 degrees.

On the other side of the Concordia, visible only from those approaching on boats is the gaping, 70-meter (230-foot) long gash, sliced into the hull of the ship when it sailed too close to a reef well known to scuba divers and sailors and near an isolated stretch of coast a few kilometers south of the bustling port.

Frances D'Emilio reported from Rome.

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