Italy building collapse toll up to 34

SCREAMS OF relatives punctuated the recovery of bodies yesterday at a flattened apartment block in the southern city of Foggia, scene of Italy's deadliest building collapse in decades. The known death toll rose to 34, with almost as many residents still missing.

One of the latest bodies retrieved was blackened, caught by a slow-burning fire seeping through the underground garage where many of the victims were believed trapped.

The fire further lessened hope of finding any more survivors. Hundreds of rescuers worked night and day, digging by the bucketful rather than move in heavy machinery where there might be victims.

The six-floor building collapsed on Thursday morning, trapping 70 to 75 people inside. Authorities said 17 residents escaped or were rescued. Foggia, 72 miles northeast of Naples, hasa a population of 150,000.

It was Italy's deadliest building collapse since 1959, when 58 people died in a collapse in the southern city of Barletta.

A number of theories were offered for the cause of the collapse, none conclusively: construction that used substandard steel bars or concrete; a sudden settling of the sandy soil; renovation work on the underground garage; water eroding the foundation.

Foggia officials defended the construction. Newspapers pointed out the builder himself had lived in the rooftop apartment, although it was not clear if he still lived in the building at the time of the disaster.

Italy's national statistics institute said 3.5 million houses nationally were at risk of similar collapse. Age had weakened some, but cut-rate building during the south's construction boom meant some structures were weak to begin with. "There's no monitoring," said Giuseppe Roma, director of the statistics bureau. "The territory is out of control."

In Rome, lawmakers urged the passage of legislation that would lead to statutory periodic inspections of buildings. Too much time had been lost since the collapse of a Rome apartment block 11 months ago in which 27 people died, they argued.