TODAY'S PAPER
49° Good Morning
49° Good Morning
NewsWorld

Costa Concordia survivors unwelcome at event

ROME

One can't stand being in a mall: It feels too much like the ship, with no visible exits. Another dreams she's walking on a tilt -- a memory of having crawled up walls as the cruise liner rolled onto its side. A 4-year-old boy talks obsessively about the meal he had to leave behind when plates flew across the dining room.

As if the nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety weren't enough, passengers who survived the terrifying capsizing of the Costa Concordia off Tuscany have come in for a rude shock as they mark the first anniversary of the disaster Sunday: They've been told they aren't welcome at the weekend's commemorations.

Ship owner Costa Crociere SpA, the Italian unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., sent several passengers a letter telling them they shouldn't bother coming to the official anniversary ceremonies on the island of Giglio where the hulking ship still rests. Costa says the day is focused on the families of the 32 people who died Jan. 13, 2012, not the 4,200 passengers and crew who survived.

"We are sure that you will understand both the logistical impossibility of accommodating all of you on the island, as well as the desire for privacy expressed by the families at this sorrowful time," Costa chief executive Michael Thamm wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.

While some survivors said they understood that the families who lost loved ones deserved particular attention, many of those who are still struggling to get through each day said the letter added insult to their injuries. Some speculated that the letter was more about keeping disgruntled passengers, many of whom have taken legal action against Costa, away from the TV cameras that have flooded the island for the anniversary.

"This to our family has not settled well at all," said Georgia Ananias of Downey, Calif., who, along with her husband and two daughters, was among the last off the ship. "We're trying to deal with this day, and to get something as insulting as this -- that there's no room for you there?"

The Concordia slammed into a reef off Giglio on Jan. 13 after the captain took it off course in a stunt to bring the ship closer to the island. As it took on water through the 230-foot gash in its hull, the Concordia rolled onto its side and came to rest on the rocks off Giglio's port, where teams are still working to remove it.

Survivors recounted a harrowing and chaotic evacuation, with crew members giving contradictory instructions and the captain delaying the evacuation order for a full hour after impact, until the ship was so far tilted on its side that many lifeboats couldn't be lowered. Thirty-two people died. Two bodies were never recovered.

Survivor Claudia Urru says she wouldn't have gone to the ceremony even if she'd been invited. Urru, her husband and two sons haven't left their home island of Sardinia: They're still so terrified of boats that they won't go near even the ferry that connects Sardinia to mainland Italy. Her 4-year-old insists on recounting his memories to anyone who will listen.

"He always wants to tell how he was eating risotto alla Milanese, and how he couldn't finish because we had to yank him from the table to escape because everything was turning upside down," Urru recalled in a telephone interview.

Maria Papa has another sort of flashback trigger: She was in her church in Wallingford, Conn., one day last spring when she looked around at the pews and "all I saw were people's heads and life jackets" -- a memory of the scene inside Giglio's church where she, her daughter and hundreds of other survivors spent the night after the evacuation.

Papa's daughter, Melissa Goduti, doesn't experience flashbacks. She simply can't stand being in malls or casinos anymore: too many people, too many floors, too few exits, just like the ship that night.

Kevin Rebello, whose brother Russell, was a waiter on the ship, was in Giglio on Friday before the commemoration, meeting with local authorities. He spent months on the island waiting in vain for his brother's body to be recovered, yet is still hopeful that it will be found once the ship is righted and towed away. "It is important that we find the body of my brother, so that he gets a decent burial," he said.

As Rebello and other relatives of the dead take part in today's commemoration, the Ananias family will be far away in California, dealing with their own traumas. Daughter Cindy, a pre-dental student, dreams she's constantly walking on a tilt; the family clawed their way up nearly vertical hallways -- walls that became floors and floors that became walls -- as they tried to find a lifeboat in the dark. Her mother, Georgia, is desperate to find the Argentine family from Mallorca they met during the evacuation. At one horrible moment, when the ship began to roll, the father handed Georgia his 3-year-old daughter, apparently thinking she could better care for the baby as they all struggled to keep themselves upright.

Georgia held the baby for some time. But as the ship listed violently, the baby began to slip from her grasp and she handed the infant back. She assumes the family survived, since no one matching their description figured on the list of 32 dead. But she hasn't seen or heard from them.

"That adds a lot of anxiety to me -- just that closure of knowing they're OK," she said.

News Photos and Videos