Prosecutors Investigate Hiker Deaths in Italy Gorge Flood

Rescuers search through the Raganello stream, Italy, Tuesday Aug. 21, 2018. (Francesco Arena/ANSA via AP)

By COLLEEN BARRY

MILAN (AP) — Italy’s environmental minister on Tuesday urged prosecutors to look at both criminal acts and administrative lapses that may have contributed to the deaths of 10 people swept away by a flash flood as they hiked through a narrow gorge in the southern region of Calabria.

Rescue workers saved 23 people Monday after a torrent some 2 ½ meters (8 feet) deep filled the narrow Raganello Gorge, which features rock faces as high as 700 meters (2,300 feet). Eleven people were hospitalized, including four children who lost either one or both of their parents.

Three people who had been listed as missing were located elsewhere, but officials had not yet called off the search as there may be hikers in the gorge without a guide.

“Italy is tired of crying for the dead. Enough,” environment minister Sergio Costa said during a visit to the scene. “If what happened is the result of negligence, sloppiness or a lack of awareness of the risks, we are facing a serious situation that we need to get to the bottom of.”

The tragedy came six days after a highway bridge collapse in the northern port city of Genoa killed 43 people.

Italian prosecutors on Tuesday opened a criminal investigation into the deaths, and the government has asked for a separate administrative proceeding to determine if there were lapses that could have prevented the deaths.

Prosecutor Eugenio Facciolla said authorities were investigating possible charges including manslaughter, causing bodily harm and official negligence, the news agency ANSA reported. No target has been identified.

Pasquale Gagliardi, a doctor with an emergency helicopter service, told ANSA that one of the survivors was an 8-year-old girl, found in a state of shock next to a body. Her parents were believed to be among the dead.

The victims were among two groups of trekkers on an excursion in the 12-kilometer- (7-1/2 mile-) long gorge, inside the vast Pollino National Park.

Italian media reported that the dead were all Italians. Costa said Dutch tourists were among those who survived.

Officials continued to survey the canyon in case there were any trekkers who had entered on their own.

Search operations continued through the night, and the head of the civil protection agency in Calabria, Carlo Tansi, said one of the bodies was found five kilometers (three miles) from the flooded area.

A local resident who helped respond to the emergency, identified only as Claudio, told ANSA that he helped two youths from Naples, who managed to climb out of the gorge on their own.

“They were in a state of shock and they arrived without shoes and with cuts from the rocks. They recounted a terrifying situation,” he said.

The gorge boasts aquatic trekking along the stream that cuts through the massive rock, where hikers pass by waterfalls and natural slipways.

Guides typically supply helmets, wet suits and other equipment.

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