Firemen and rescuers scrambled on Wednesday to pull some 200 coffins from the water in disturbing scenes following a landslide Tuesday that hit a graveyard in Camogli, a cliff-side village near the northern city of Genoa, the Telegraph reported.
Currents have started to carry some of the coffins onto the beach, many of which were damaged or burst open after falling on the rocks about 150 feet below the cemetery.
The landslide appears to have been triggered by coastal erosion, made worse by severe typhoons that hit the northern Liguria region in recent years. The landslide also damaged two chapels at the Camogli cemetery and brought meters of rocks down onto the shore.
Rescuers have been working at the site round the clock with boats to retrieve the coffins, while access to the cemetery has been restricted.
According to the town's residents, "every one hundred years the cliff changes its skin", The Local reported, citing La Repubblica, as landslides are not unusual along the rocky Ligurian coastline.
Genoa prosecutors have launched an inquiry into the disaster, investigating recent building projects in the area which they say could have played a role in the landslide.
Rescue teams had been sent to the cemetery after locals reported hearing ''groaning and cracking'' in the area and they carried out checks as the land gave way.
"The search for the human remains affected by the accident is still ongoing," EuroNews quoted Mayor Francesco Olivari as saying.
The mayor warned that some coffins may be buried underneath the rubble. Five of the 10 coffins that were recovered from the sea have been identified, he said, as around 20 people gathered in the town hall for news of their loved ones' remains.
Families who lost their relatives' remains at sea will be provided support, the mayor said.