A young Eritrean woman was found alive among the piles of bodies brought ashore after a boat sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa, killing an estimated 300 people.
The 24-year-old, named only as Kebrat, was given urgent medical attention after convulsing and vomiting seawater mixed with boat fuel, before being flown by helicopter to Palermo.
As Italy held a national day of mourning, rescuers told how they rushed to where the 20-metre boat capsized half a nautical mile off the island on Thursday. It was likened to a ''scene from the Titanic''.
This scene from a video shows rescuers helping a survivor of the capsized immigrant boat to safety off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Photo: Reuters
''They were all covered in oil; they were sliding from our hands,'' said Domenico Colapinto, a fisherman who went to help with his brother Raffaele. ''I clutched hold of a woman but I was not able to keep hold of her. She fell into the water and I was saying, 'Grab hold of me'. She looked at me and said nothing, she was exhausted. I saw her slide away, without even a cry, as she looked me in the eyes.''
A fire flared up and the boat capsized after it had set out from the Libyan port of Misurata with an estimated 500 refugees packed on board.
Kebrat said there was panic when the fire broke out - believed to have been started when someone lit a blanket to try to attract the attention of authorities as the vessel lay half a nautical mile offshore.
''There were flames that were destroying the boat,'' she said.
''We started to scream and then jumped into the water. Then I swam with all my strength.
''I saw many people die next to me. I thought I would die, too. I'm just glad to be alive.
''I've reached Italy after years of desperation. I'm trying to find a better life, a job.''
Rescuers managed to save 155 people. They recovered the bodies of another 111, but with an estimated 250 missing, there are fears that the death toll will rise to more than 300.
Emergency services hoped to resume the search on Saturday despite rough seas.
Rescuers said strong currents around the island may have swept other bodies further out to sea but they were no longer able to leave the port because of strong winds and two-metre waves.
''There is horror down there. Dozens of corpses, maybe hundreds,'' said Rocco Canell, who runs a local diving school and went below before the search was halted.
''They are all on top of another, piled up, wedged. The lucky ones are those who died first,'' he said after descending to the ghostly wreck, which lies on the seabed at a depth of about 40 metres.
The boat's Tunisian skipper, already arrested in Italy in April for people trafficking and deported back to Tunisia, has been detained.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano appealed for increased European assistance in patrolling Italy's maritime border and more action in countries of origin in Africa to stem the flow of risky refugee crossings.
''Lampedusa is the new Checkpoint Charlie between the northern and southern hemispheres,'' Mr Alfano said, referring to the famous crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
''This is not just an Italian problem.''
Lampedusa mayor Giusi Nicolini said: ''After these deaths, we are expecting something to change. Things cannot stay the same.''