ROME (AP) -- Italian officials say the death toll in the shipwreck off Sicily of a boat carrying African migrants has reached 78.
Antonio Candela, the government's health commissioner for Palermo, is quoted by LaPresse news agency as saying 159 people have been rescued but that the boat is believed to have been carrying some 500 people, meaning around 250 are still unaccounted-for.
In an indication of the scale of the unfolding tragedy, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano canceled his appointments Thursday and headed to Lampedusa to oversee the rescue operations first-hand, reports said. Pope Francis, who visited Lampedusa in July, quickly sent his condolences.
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