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Costa Concordia: How cruise ship tragedy transformed an island paradise

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Giglio, Italy (CNN) — Father Lorenzo Pasquotti keeps hundreds of cards and letters from the passengers and crew members who survived the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner on a shelf in the rectory of the brick-faced Church of the Madonna of Giglio, just up the narrow street from the island’s only port.

Many of the letters, handwritten in English, German, French and Italian, are addressed simply to “Giglio, Italy 58012” to no one in particular, almost as if the island itself is a person. When the postal carrier brings the mail over on the morning ferry from the Italian mainland, he either leaves the new letters with Mayor Sergio Ortelli or at the church with Father Pasquotti. After all, Giglio has always been the type of place where the mailman knows exactly who is around and who is not.

At least that’s the way it used to be before the Costa Concordia ran aground off Giglio on January 13, 2012, killing 32 passengers and injuring dozens more. But in the last year since the salvage operation began at full tilt, the island has shifted from being a secluded utopia that attracted mainly birdwatchers hoping to spot Corsican seagulls, kestrals and goldcrests, or hikers who wanted to climb its solitary slopes, to what it is now: the epicenter of the largest-ever maritime salvage operation in the world.

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