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Four convicted in 2010 Ventotene cliff collapse

Two girls, 13, killed by landslide

24 February, 17:05
Four convicted in 2010 Ventotene cliff collapse (ANSA) - Rome, February 24 - Four people were convicted Monday in the 2010 collapse of a cliff that killed two teenage girls on Ventotene, including the mayor and former mayor of the well-known tourist island off the west-central coast of Italy.

Mayor Giuseppe Assenso got two years and four months in jail for negligent manslaughter for a landslide prosecutors said could have been averted, as did the head of the municipal engineering office, Pasquale Romano.

Former mayor Vito Biondo and Luciano Pizzuti, head of the municipal civil engineering department in the provincial capital on the mainland, Latina, both got a year and 10 months.

Prosecutors had asked for two years and three months for Assenso, Romano and Pizzuti, and requested the former mayor be acquitted.

The four were convicted of failing to secure the cliff despite signs of degradation, subsidence and water infiltration after heavy rains.

The two 14-year-old girls died on a school trip on April 20, when the cliff came down on the island in the Tyrrhenian Sea south of Rome.

One girl, Sara Panuccio, died immediately and the other, Francesca Colonello, died in hospital after being resuscitated at the scene, a well-known beach at the small rocky island's port.

A third girl, Atena Raco, 13, was seriously injured.

She was intubated and put on a 'code red' emergency copter to a hospital in Latina south of Rome, where she took months to recover.

A boy suffered a broken leg.

The four were in a party of Rome middle-school students who were on a two-day visit to the island.

They were allowed onto the Cala Rossano beach as a "reward" for behaving properly on a tour round the island's Roman port.

After a while a few of the 42 students decided to take shelter from the sun and the rocks came down on them almost immediately.

The cliff gave no warning it was about to fall, eye witnesses said.

"The collapse was instantaneous, there was nothing that could have warned us," said Matteo Valle, a geologist working for the Mediterranea Viaggi tour company.

"I saw two enormous pieces of rock break off and crush the girls. They fell straight down onto the beach," he said.

Five teachers and a guide suffered shock.

Counselling was being provided for the dead students' classmates.

Ventotene Mayor Assenso, a doctor who tried to revive the girls, said "the cliff had never shown signs of giving way".

Despite this, it had been reinforced with fencing a year ago, he said.

The mayor said other parts of the cliff had been examined for signs of erosion but not the section over the beach.

The Lazio regional Civil Protection department said the party from the Anna Magnani middle school was not in a zone ruled off-limits to tourists.

In 2009 a Roman woman was injured by a rock that fell off a cliff into the sea in another part of the island.

A member of the centre-left Democratic Party, Raffaele Ranucci, said he had warned the government in April 2009 to do something about the risk of falling rocks, after the island was "lacerated" by heavy winter rains.

TOURIST ISLAND WITH HISTORICAL PAST.

Ventotene is a tourist island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 25 nautical miles off the coast of Gaeta on the border between Lazio and Campania.

Together with Zanone, Santo Stefano, Palmarola and Ponza, it is part of the Pontine Islands.

Ponza is a very popular destination for tourists but the less accessible Ventotene, a prison island under Mussolini, also draws its fair share of visitors.

Many are students of history attracted by Ventotene's past.

Several Roman noblewomen including Augustus's daughter Julia and Vespasian's granddaughter St Flavia Domitilla were banished there, most for flouting codes of conduct.

In 2009 five Roman ships were found off Ventotene's coast and their almost intact cargo of olive oil, 'garum' fish paste and metal ingots hauled up for display.

During Mussolini's time, one of the 700 opponents of his regime held on the island, Altiero Spinelli, wrote what is now called the Ventotene Manifesto promoting his vision of a united Europe.

At his death in 1986 Spinelli was remembered as one of the founding fathers of the European Union.

The main building of the European Parliament is named after him.

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