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Jan 3, 2015 8:19 AM

Heat, smoke delay search of Greek ferry for bodies

The Associated Press

BRINDISI, Italy (AP) For a second day, fierce heat from a slow-burning blaze kept firefighters and other investigators on Saturday from searching the hold and vehicle decks of a Greek ferry for more bodies.

At least 11 people perished in the pre-dawn blaze on Dec. 28 aboard the Norman Atlantic, on a voyage between Greece and Italy. Authorities fear more bodies might be inside the vehicle deck where the fire began.

The ferry was towed into the Italian port of Brindisi on Friday morning. Port Capt. Mario Valente said Saturday that temperatures were "very high" inside the deck. Smoke still poured from the wreck.

In early evening, Bari Prosecutor Ettore Cardinali told journalists that no bodies were found during a search of some of the passenger cabins and some deck areas.

"There is still the danger of fire," Cardinali said. "Therefore, we still enter very carefully, little by little. It is still an initial search."

As for accessing the vehicle deck, Brindisi Port Authority president Hercules Haralambides said it wasn't known when the garage area can be searched. "We can only hope that we are not confronted with a real tragedy" of more bodies, he said.

Four Greek brothers waited at dockside for news of a missing cousin, a truck driver.

Tsakoumis Ioannis, one of the brothers, said an uncle was located in a hospital, where he is being treated for burns on his head and arms. Their cousin, Sofos Ioannis, is missing.

"What expectation can we have?" Ioannis said, adding in frustration that the family hasn't heard anything.

Valente said port authorities would assist the family as best they could. "We hope their questions will soon find answers," Valente said.

Some survivors raised the possibility that truckers slept in their vehicles.

Greece on Friday indicated as many as 19 people are still unaccounted for, while the Italian prosecutor leading the investigation of the fire said a few days earlier the figure could be even higher.

In addition to known missing, it is possible migrants might have come on board secretly when the ferry left Greek ports, possibly hidden in some of the many trucks transported by the ferry.

The cause of the blaze was still unknown. Investigators also want to know if any safety rules were violated, including during evacuation.


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