As the death toll climbed to 62 on Monday, migrants who survived the crash of a human smuggling boat off the coast of southern Italy on Sunday told of the loss and horror they endured when their dreams for a better life ended on the rocks just feet from the shoreline.
Migrants reportedly from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria -- countries ravaged recently by poverty, natural disasters, conflicts and civil unrest -- were crammed aboard the 66-foot-long wooden boat that originated from Turkey and crashed into a rocky shore of eastern Calabria, according to the Italian Coast Guard.
At least 120 migrants were aboard the vessel, according to the coast guard. Citing rescue workers, Agence France-Presse put the number at more than 200.
Priest gives last rites
Vincenzo Luciano, a resident of the area, told ABC News he was among the first witnesses to arrive at the beach near Steccato di Cutro after the boat wrecked. He described a scene of chaos, with mothers screaming and calling out the names of their children in the darkness.
Luciano said he immediately shined the light of his cellphone on the water's edge, saw bodies washing up to shore and began attempting to pull people from the water.
"We arrived and saw this disaster. The more the sun rose, the more dead bodies we could see," Luciano said. "I was just trying to get as many people as possible out of the water but they were all dead. I feel destroyed. It will be awhile before I'm ready to head back out to sea."
Roberto Occhiuto, governor of the Calabria region, told reporters Monday he hopes the death toll does not reach 100.
At least 81 people were rescued, according to the coast guard.
At least 20 migrants were hospitalized, one in need of intensive care, said Manuela Curra, a provincial government official. One survivor was taken into custody for questioning after migrants identified him to authorities as one of the human traffickers, RAI state television reported.
Two more alleged smugglers were found alive and arrested, authorities said.
Antonio Ceraso, the mayor of the seaside resort city of Cutro, told Italian news media outlets that children, including a baby, are among the dead. Other local officials told ABC News Monday that 10 children were killed in the episode.
Bodies, covered in cloth, were being brought to a local sports stadium in the nearby village of Crotone, which has been turned into a temporary morgue. Emergency workers were also bringing coffins to the beach, expecting more bodies to be recovered.
A priest was on hand at the beach to administer last rites over some some of the dead.
One migrant saw his little brother die
The boat, according to authorities, left Izmir, Turkey, several days ago, embarking on a treacherous journey of more than 1,200 nautical miles.
Ceraso said the boat carrying the migrants hit rough seas and the rickety vessel "disintegrated" when it hit the rocks. He said wreckage of the blue boat is strewn across 1,000 feet of coastline. Describing what he saw at the scene of the crash, he said it was a "gruesome sight that stays with you for the rest of your life."
Among the splintered pieces and larger chunks of the boat washing up on the beach were backpacks and sneakers of the migrants.
The search for survivors is ongoing with coast guard crews combing the choppy waters in boats and with aircraft and local firefighters searching on jet skis.
Sergio di Dato of Doctors Without Borders told ABC News the story of a 20-year-old survivor, who fled Syria with his 6-year-old brother. He said the man helped support his brother as they desperately clung to a piece of wood from the fractured vessel for more than 20 hours in the frigid waters, only to watch his sibling die.
"He saw his brother die right before his eyes from hypothermia. They were very close," said di Dato, who is providing psychological counseling to the traumatized survivors.
Di Dato said many of the migrants are from Afghanistan, including one 16-year-old boy who fled Afghanistan with his sister after she came under attack from the Taliban. He said the siblings were trying to make it to Europe "to try to have a better life." His sister died in the disaster.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for the survivors and the loved ones of those killed during his Sunday address in St. Peter's Square.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose right-wing administration has taken a hard line on migration since her election in October, issued a statement expressing "deep sorrow for the many human lives torn away by human traffickers."
Italy is one of the main landing points for migrants being smuggled across the central Mediterranean, mostly from North Africa and in recent years from Turkey. At least 20,333 migrants have been killed or have gone missing since 2014 while attempting the crossing, according to the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrants Project.
"It is a huge tragedy which shows the absolute need to act firmly against irregular migration channels," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said in a statement, adding that Sunday's tragedy highlights the urgency of cracking down on human smuggling sea crossings.