| GIGLIO, Italy
GIGLIO, Italy Jan 17 Italian divers and
earthquake rescue veterans are braving chill waters, ships decks
that are now sheer cliffs and the peril of waves sending heavy
furniture crashing on top of them to scour a half-sunken
super-liner for survivors and, more likely, bodies.
Having resorted in despair to blasting their way through the
pitch-dark maze of debris, luxury cabins and leisure facilities
that is the badly listing hulk of the seagoing pleasure palace,
they found five more dead aboard the Costa Concordia on Tuesday,
making 11 in all. And the strain is beginning to tell.
"Virtually all the dry part has been searched. It would need
a miracle to find anyone alive in the wet part," one rescue
specialist told Reuters before climbing aboard the wreck for a
fourth gruelling day dangling on ropes in the blackness, groping
along corridors and stairways and through hundreds of cabins.
In line with service practice, the man spoke on condition
that he was not identified in the media.
On Monday, the 114,000-tonne ship, twice the size of the
Titanic and the biggest passenger vessel ever to founder,
shifted on the rocky, sloping seabed off the Tuscan island of
Giglio, slamming hatches and showering the intrepid rescue teams
with debris that ranges from pots and pans to grand pianos.
Work was briefly suspended after the slippage on the grounds
of safety for the dozens engaged in the operations on board. Of
some 4,200 passengers and crew, 24 people are still missing.
Choking back tears of fatigue and stress, the swarthy,
athletically built firefighter, who insisted he could not be
named, concluded there was little hope: "They would have to have
found an air pocket. But they would also have to have somehow
stayed mostly dry, because it's freezing cold out there."
The rescue crews, working in teams along the 1,000-foot
length of the gigantic wreck, include divers from the Navy and
Coast Guard as well as many specialists from Italy's national
fire service, the Vigili del Fuoco. They are often the first to
respond, not just at fires but emergencies ranging from traffic
accidents and heart attacks to earthquakes and shipwrecks.
Trained in working their way through confined spaces, using
ropes to climb up and rappel down, the men aboard the Costa
Concordia are an elite who guard their identities closely - they
have removed nametags from their uniforms at Giglio - and whose
experience brings with it its share of emotional scars.
"It's very dangerous out there. But in a way it's also
wonderful," said the man. "We don't get paid any more for the
extra qualifications we have, but we do this for passion."
Recalling his work in the mountain city of L'Aquila during
the 2009 earthquake that left more than 300 dead, the
firefighter who spoke to Reuters said: "In L'Aquila I found only
corpses. And I'm afraid the same thing will happen here."
No one has been found alive since Sunday. But the rescue
effort continues, combing through the teetering wreck yard by
yard: "Every time you leave home you wonder how it will turn
out," the firefighter said. "I have three kids..."
His voice trailing off, his eyes welled with tears and he
turned away to prepare for the day's work on the stricken ship.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)