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Concordia, “Me, reporter, on the ship that sank amid screams, tears, panic and a race to the lifeboats …”

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A bang and then darkness. The screams and the crying, the wide eyes of the people, the desperation of the children, the feeling that it is over, over forever. Flashbacks that have been part of my life for ten years and above all of the nights making them sometimes sleepless. Ten years and yet it seems now. And as always, in the days of remembrance, the desire to disappear, the illusion of abandoning oneself to oblivion, not to talk about it and not to relive that deep, intimate, lonely suffering takes over. Instead, the request for a piece of memories for my Adnkronos agency arrives on time, the interviews on the televisions, the comments on the radio. It was supposed to be any January 13 and instead it became the anniversary of the biggest shipwreck of the Italian navy, that of the Costa Concordia: over 4,000 people on board, myself included, more than 100 injured, 32 dead including a five-year-old girl and only one culprit: the commander Francesco Schettino sentenced to 16 years of imprisonment for having commanded an improvised maneuver, defined as a “bow”, which led to the impact of the transatlantic with the Scole, the rock in front of the Giglio Island. It was 9.45 pm, when I hear a dry bang, and then the dragging, an earthquake, the darkness while everything is shaking, plates, dishes, bottles fall. The screams and the escape of all the passengers towards the outside of the ship. The emergency lights come on again and I find myself at the Milano restaurant alone with a girl who is five months pregnant in a panic. I try to reassure her by saying “don’t worry, you’ve seen how big this ship is, nothing can happen to it”. I lied to comfort her, words that she soon realized how naïve they were. On the deck, people already massed were wearing life jackets. None of the crew could give an explanation as long as a voice on the intercom informed of a black out, to be quiet and to go back to the cabins. How many deaths, other than 32, would there have been if we had listened to that indication? Time passes, fear and despair increase. Inevitable, in those moments, think of the worst: in the dark of the night, of the black sea. Those images automatically refer me to scenes already seen, at the cinema, with the Oscar for the Titanic movie. And as in the blockbuster of Hollywood no one gives indications on what to do but in the meantime on the decks you no longer walk straight, it is clear that the ship is folding. It is not perceived how far from the coast we are, it is night. The only information, thanks to the iPhone, is that we are on the Giglio Island. Almost an hour after the accident, a time that later proved fatal in the management of the emergency. I call 112, ask what was happening on board and I know that “the coast guard and the finance police are coming”, “we have to evacuate”, “have you put on your life jacket?” I don’t remember if and what I replied. I looked for that jacket and I was just in time because shortly after from inside they asked us to go to deck 4. Seeing what I later recognized in the Purser I asked what had happened and he “can no longer keep the ship straight”. On the deck waiting to board the lifeboats, the crowd became more pressing. Children, elderly people almost overwhelmed by those who tried to get on a lifeboat, most of which were rendered unusable due to the inclination of the ship. They filled one up and then stopped the line right in front of me. It was freezing until they opened another gate to fill another. The maneuvers began but the lifeboat did not go down. It was the Titanic scene, it was worse. A man on board was shaking like a leaf, he understood the difficulty, the lifeboat was stranded on the shoulder of the ship. With the help of other personnel to whom she shouted technical instructions in English with a trembling voice, she tried to free the lifeboat by hitting the cables that kept her tied to the ship with an ax. Meanwhile, the passengers remaining on the deck threw themselves into the already too full lifeboat, which moved, swayed like a swing between the shouts of the people and the staff shouting “nooooo”, begging not to do it. The lifeboat couldn’t carry all those people. But nothing. And still beating the cables and falling down a few meters and again they threw themselves inside between screams and tears. Someone was starting to feel bad. “We can’t do it, it’s over”, I thought. I called my son thinking it was the last time. I felt life stop at that point. Those screams were the only proof of my existence until the thud in the water of that little boat reopened the doors of hope for me. Mechanically I advanced following the other castaways. On the dock here are the first dead. Thanks to the Gigliesi we were rescued and hosted. They opened their homes to welcome those who arrived, some covered only by a sheet because they had thrown themselves into the water, others injured or with tattered clothes. It was not yet clear what had happened until an image of that immense ship wounded and slumped on the coast appeared from the port. A true miracle because, the locals immediately explained, “if it had happened in the open sea the ship would have sunk”. With some castaways we tried in vain to look for the commander, we asked the crew, then the survivors present on the dock and only later did we understand why he was not there: unlike the commander Edward Smith who in the film sank last with his Titanic, Schettino s ‘was eclipsed in the dark, leaving the ship prematurely. (by Patrizia Perilli)

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