'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."
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 2 Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
- 5 Jennifer Lawrence 'naked sex video' will be leaked threatens 4Chan celebrity photo hacker
Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
Ariana Grande nude photos leak: 'These are completely fake' say singer's representatives
A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Israel to appropriate 400 hectares in West Bank for ‘state use’
Kate Upton nude pictures leak: Model's representatives 'looking into' authenticity of naked images
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...
£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...
£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...