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Mourning for Mudslide Victims in Sicily

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Thousands turned out in the cathedral of the Sicilian city of Messina to take part in the funeral service for the victims of the deadly mudslides. At least 28 people were killed earlier this month when rivers of mud tore down a mountainside flooding entire towns.

Family members and friends of the victims of the mudslides gathered in the cathedral in silence. Church and state leaders, including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, took part in the solemn service.

21 coffins draped in the Italian flag were lined up below the church's altar. The names and ages of the victims were read out one by one. Each name was followed by long applause.

A message from Pope Benedict was read out in church. The archbishop of Messina, Calogero la Piana, who celebrated the service, said similar tragedies must never occur again.

He said that in this moment of sadness and mourning for the whole community of Messina and Italy, we feel deeply and intimately united with those affected by the recent tragedy.

Torrential rains October 1 caused the mudslides in the northeast of Sicily, near the coastal city of Messina. Not all the bodies have yet been recovered. Some are still missing and hundreds of people have been left homeless.

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Dozens of houses on the outskirts of the Sicilian city were swept away or flattened by heavy rain and mud. The disaster sparked a row over protection measures against flooding with local officials accusing the government of ignoring their appeals for funds.

But the head of the rescue services blamed shoddy building for the disaster, saying too many houses had been built too close to rivers and the seafront in an area hit by landslides two years ago.

In his homily the archbishop said the management of the unique heritage of this beautiful and fascinating territory, rich in colors, vegetation and art, is lacking. Too often, he added, it is violated by the sin of men, by neglect, by private and selfish interests and by perverse logic and all types of speculations.

Saturday was declared a national day of mourning. The Italian prime minister has promised to build new houses for the victims of the mudslides, just like the ones that were built for the victims of the earthquake in l'Aquila earlier this year. Coming out of the cathedral on Saturday, Mr. Berlusconi said everything would be done as quickly as possible.