Dozens Dead After Boat Full of Migrants Sinks off Italian Coast

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-10_308ce93cac.jpgSTR/AFP/Getty Images (ROME) -- After pulling more than 80 bodies from the Mediterranean Sea, Italian authorities are searching for survivors of a ship packed with undocumented immigrants trying to reach Europe's shore. The vessel might have been carrying more than 500 Africans when it reportedly capsized near the tiny Rabbit Island, near the bigger Italian island of Lampedusa, Coast Guard authorities say.

Children were reportedly among the dead.  Nearly 150 people have been rescued and were being treated for shock and hyperthermia at makeshift clinics near the port on the island.

Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini was in tears as she described the scene.

"It is a horror, a horror," she told Italian media.  "They don't stop unloading dead bodies."

Italian satellite TV channels showed the small pier lined with body bags as dazed residents looked on.  Banner television headlines decreed that the nation was in mourning.

There had been "enough tragedies" at sea, and it was time to look again at asylum laws, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said.

The boat, which reportedly set sail from nearby Libya, apparently capsized and then caught fire.  Rescue workers report that a blanket might have been lit to raise the alarm, sparking the fire. 

Helicopters and rescue boats are continuing to search the accident scene.  Local fishing boats have also helped in searching.

Lampedusa is 70 miles from the African coast.  It is the closest Italian island and the nearest European arrival point for asylum seekers.  The ship was packed with immigrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, according to Italian Coast Guard officials.

The pope immediately issued his condolences, tweeting, "Pray God for the victims of the shipwreck off Lampedusa."

The Italian government has dispatched Interior Minister Angelo Alfano to oversee the operations.

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