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Survivors still suffering after Concordia disaster

Friday - 1/11/2013, 4:58pm  ET

FILE - In this , Monday, Jan. 30, 2012 file photo, seagulls fly in front of the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. As if the nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety weren't enough, passengers who survived the terrifying grounding and capsizing of the Costa Concordia off Tuscany have come in for a rude shock as they mark the first anniversary of the disaster on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. Ship owner Costa Crociere SpA, the Italian unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., sent several passengers a letter telling them they weren't welcome at 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. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, File)

NICOLE WINFIELD
Associated Press

ROME (AP) -- 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 started to fly 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 on 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.

He expressed sympathies to the survivors and said he trusted that their thoughts and prayers "will help lead us to a brighter future."

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 -- both physical and psychological. 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.

The letter has been a focus of discussions on the closed Facebook group that sprang up in the aftermath of the disaster, where survivors from around the world swap news articles and their personal ups and downs.

"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?"

Costa attorney Marco De Luca said it only made sense to limit the numbers on the island, which opened its doors to the 4,200 shipwreck victims who came ashore that frigid night. "The presence of thousands and thousands of people would create logistical problems -- good sense would say you take note of that," he said.

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 70-meter (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.

The captain, Francesco Schettino, remains under house arrest, accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and leaving the ship before all passengers were evacuated. He hasn't been charged. Schettino says he saved lives after the ship ran into a reef that wasn't on his nautical charts.

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 in the year since the grounding: They're still so terrified of boats that they won't go near the ferry that connects Sardinia to mainland Italy.

Urru sees a therapist each week, takes sleeping pills to get through the night and anti-anxiety medicine to calm her nerves during the day. Since the disaster, her 4-year-old has insisted on sleeping with her and her husband, and their 13-year-old regularly wakes at night. The older child refuses to speak of the disaster, even with his psychiatrist.

The toddler, on the other hand, insists on recounting his memories to anyone who will listen. Repeatedly.

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