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How the Costa Concordia wreck changed an Italian island

GIGLIO PORTO, Italy – The winding granite boulders of the Tuscan island of Giglio are bare in the winter sun, and no longer hidden by the sinister stranded cruise liner that stranded in the turquoise waters of this marine sanctuary ten years ago.

Few of the roughly 500 residents of the fishing village will ever forget the freezing night of January 13, 2012, when the Costa Concordia wrecked, killing 32 people and disrupting life on the island for years.

“Each of us here has a tragic memory of that time,” said Mario Pellegrini, 59, who was deputy mayor in 2012 and was the first civilian to board the cruiser after hitting rocks near the lighthouses. at the entrance to the port.

Hospitality from the united island community gained ground, initially to provide basic assistance to the 4,229 passengers and crew who had to be evacuated from a tilting ship as high as a skyscraper. sky. In no time at all, the people of Giglio welcomed thousands of journalists, law enforcement officers and rescue experts who descended on the port. In the coming months, rescue teams set up camp in the picturesque harbor to work on the safe removal of the ship, an operation that took more than two years.

The people of Giglio felt like family to those who spent long days in its port, waiting to hear from their loved ones whose bodies remained trapped on the ship. Thursday, 10 years to the day of the tragedy, the families of the victims, some passengers and the Italian authorities attended a memorial mass and threw a wreath of flowers on the waters where the Costa Concordia rested. At 9.45 p.m., when the ship ran aground, a candlelit procession lights up the harbor quay as church bells ring and ship sirens sound.

What stands out now for many is how the wreck has forever changed the lives of some of those whose paths have crossed. Friendships were formed, business relationships were formed and new families were even formed.

“It is as if, since that tragic night, the lives of all those involved were forever linked by an invisible thread,” said Luana Gervasi, the niece of one of the victims of the shipwreck, during the mass of Thursday, his voice broken.

Francesco Dietrich, 48, from the eastern city of Ancona, arrived on the island in February 2013 to work with wreck divers, “a dream job,” he said, adding: “C It was like offering someone who plays football for the parish team to join the Champions League with all the best teams in the business.

For his job, Mr. Dietrich had to buy a lot of boat repair supplies from the only hardware store in town. It was owned by a local family and Mr Dietrich now has a 6 year old son, Pietro, with the family daughter.

“It was such a shock for us,” said Bruna Danei, 42, who until 2018 worked as secretary for the consortium that saved the wreck. “Working on the Costa Concordia has been a life-changing experience for me in many ways. “

A rendering of the Costa Concordia used by rescue teams to plan its recovery hung on the living room wall where her 22-month-old daughter, Arianna was playing.

“She wouldn’t be here if Davide hadn’t come to work at the site,” Ms. Danei said, referring to Davide Cedioli, 52, an experienced diver from Turin who came to the island in May 2012 to help. to straighten the Costa. Concordia – and who is also Arianna’s father.

From a barge, Mr. Cedioli oversaw the unprecedented rescue operation which, in less than a day, pivoted the 951-foot vessel, partly crushed against the rocks, from the seabed to a vertical position without further endangering the underwater ecosystem. which he damaged when he ran aground.

“We jumped for joy when the parbuckling was over,” Cedioli recalls. “We felt we were doing this story justice. And I loved this little community and living on the island.

The local council voted to make January 13 a day of remembrance in Giglio, but after this year it will stop public commemorations and “make it a more intimate moment, without the media,” Mr Ortelli said at the mass. .

“Being here ten years later brings back a lot of emotions,” said Kevin Rebello, 47, whose older brother Russell was a waiter at the Costa Concordia.

Russell Rebello’s remains were finally recovered three years after the sinking, under cabin furniture, after the ship had been righted and dismantled in Genoa.

“First of all, I feel close to my brother here,” said Kevin Rebello. “But it’s also kind of a family reunion for me – I couldn’t wait to see the people from Giglio.”

Mr Rebello hugged and greeted residents on the streets of the port area, and recalled how the people there had shown him affection at the time, buying him coffee and simply showing respect for his grief.

“The families of the other victims feel differently, but I am Catholic and have forgiven,” Rebello said.

The Costa Concordia accident caused national shame when it became apparent that the liner’s captain, Francesco Schettino, had not immediately raised the general alarm and coordinated the evacuation, and instead abandoned the sinking ship .

“Get back on board! A Coast Guard officer shouted at Mr Schettino when he understood the captain was in a lifeboat watching people rush to escape, audio recordings of their exchange later revealed . “Go up to the bow of the ship on a rope ladder and tell me what you can do, how many people are there and what they need. Now!”

The officer has since pursued a distinguished career in politics, while Mr Schettino is serving a 16-year sentence in a Roman prison for manslaughter and for abandoning ship before the evacuation is complete. Other officials and crew negotiated less severe sentences.

During the trial, Mr. Schettino admitted to having committed a “recklessness” in deciding to sail near the island of Giglio at high speed to greet the family of the butler of the ship. The impact with the half-submerged rock near the island produced a gash in the hull more than 70 meters long, or about 76 meters, resulting in blackouts on board and water pouring into the lower decks.

Mr Schettino attempted to steer the cruiser towards the port to facilitate the evacuation, but the ship was out of control and began to tip over as it approached the port, rendering many lifeboats useless.

“I cannot forget the eyes of the scared children and their parents,” said Pellegrini, who had boarded the ship to speak with the authorities and organize the evacuation. “The metallic sound of the enormous rocking ship and the gurgling of the sea in the endless corridors of the cruiser.”

Sergio Ortelli, who is still mayor of Giglio ten years later, was also moved. “No one can go back and undo these senseless deaths of innocent people, or the grief of their families,” he said. “The tragedy will always stay with us as a community. It was an apocalypse for us.

Yet Mr Ortelli said the crash also told a different story, that of the skilled rescuers who managed to save thousands of lives, and the engineers who righted the liner, bailed it out and took it to the breakage.

As global attention shifted from Giglio, residents kept in touch with the outside world through the people who lived there temporarily.

For months, Rev. Lorenzo Pasquotti, who was then pastor in Giglio, continued to receive packages: dry-cleaned slippers, sweaters and tablecloths that were given to cold passengers and stranded in his church that night. , returned by mail.

One summer, Father Pasquotti ate German cookies with a German couple who were passengers on the ship. They still remembered the hot tea and leftover Christmas delicacies given to them that night.

“So many nationalities – the world was on our doorstep all of a sudden,” he said, recalling that night. “And we naturally opened it.”

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