ROME - Italian officials say the death toll in the shipwreck off Sicily of a boat carrying African migrants has reached at least 94.
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.
Reports say the boat was only 65 feet long.
The Italian coast guard says the ship that was trying to smuggle Africans into Europe caught fire as the migrants neared Lampedusa and capsized, spilling hundreds of passengers into the sea. Some 150 people have been rescued.
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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