'There were so many children and lots of people were thanking God that they were still alive'

Michael Day reports from the Tuscan village inundated by survivors

Crossing the tranquil lagoon yesterday from mainline Tuscany to the verdant peninsula of Monte Argentario it was hard to imagine the scenes from 1970s-style disaster film that descended on this beautiful and isolated part of Italy on Friday night and early Saturday, as helicopters and ambulances raced back and forth.

Take the ferry from Monte Argentario to Giglio, though, and evidence of the accident is plain to see. Jutting from the shallow water, 300 metres from the island, the stricken Costa Concordia lies, like North Peckham housing estate, at sea but at an absurd angle as rescue boats bob around it.

Given the speed with which the cruise liner listed in the cold waters, with more than 4,000 passengers and crew spilling out, it seems remarkable that only five people perished. But if doubts are building over actions of senior crew members and the ship's preparedness for coping with an emergency, it appears that the locals, as well as the rescue services, reacted swiftly and with compassion.

Giglio's priest Don Lorenzo Paquatti, 62, who arrived on the island of 800 people from Milan three months ago, said his church became an emergency centre for hundreds of survivors.

"There were so many children. And above all I remember how all of them were moving as if they were expecting something – some sort of help," he said. "Lots of people were thanking God they were still alive and there were all the people in evening wear; the women were all made up with incredibly high heels."

Local Fabio Rosso said many elderly passengers were taken to the mainland in wheelchairs, giving support to reports that some victims were disabled – and making it all the more remarkable that by Sunday evening the death toll was relatively small.

Signora Liliana, owner of Giglio's only hotel, the modestly-sized Bahamas, squeezed in hundreds of cold and stunned survivors, many of whom had been unable to find lifeboats and had jumped into the sea then swam ashore. Some stayed for several hours and many for the whole night. The cruise ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, who has been arrested for suspected multiple manslaughter, phoned his mother from the bridge: "There's been a tragedy... but don't worry, I tried to save the passengers," he is reported to have told her, before jumping ship.

Magistrates are considering an additional charge of abandoning ship ahead of passengers. Italian media reports suggest he ignored calls by the coastguard to return to help rescue efforts.

"It looked like they were making a little sight-seeing tour, said Carlo, 59, a local in a bar. "The lights on Giglio look pretty at night. He wanted to show them, and that's how I think it hit the rocks".

Some local people are now not keen on travelling by cruise ship. Elena Ballerano said: "To be honest, going on one of those huge luxury liners, trapped with all those people, is my idea of hell. And on Friday night that's what it became."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer

£36000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Buyer is required to join thi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen