Intense rains and deadly torrents of mud destroy homes and farmland in northern Italy

Rescue teams worked on Thursday to reach towns and villages in northern Italy still cut off by heavy rains and flooding, as the death toll rose to 13 and authorities began drawing up plans to cleaning and rebuilding.

The extreme weather that caused this week’s disaster – a prolonged drought punctuated by 36 hours of intense rainfall, two weeks after another downpour – led to the rupture of two dozen rivers and tributaries. The force of the water sent torrents of mud through entire towns in Emilia-Romagna, flooding shop windows and basements.

Local mayors warned that some remote villages were still completely cut off because landslides made roads impassable and telephone service remained cut off. This has prevented rescue teams from reaching residents and authorities from understanding the extent of their needs, Mercato Seraceno Mayor Monica Rossi said.

“If it rains more, the situation will be tragic,” Rossi warned on Sky TG24, standing on a road with a missing piece of a landslide.

Firefighters evacuate people with a dog from a flooded house. (Claudia Greco/Reuters)

A man sits in front of his damaged belongings on a muddy street
A man sits next to objects displaced by flooding caused by heavy rain, in Faenza, Italy on Thursday. (Claudia Greco/Reuters)

People found dead at home

The death toll rose to 13 on Thursday when four more bodies were found. In the small town of Russi, two people, aged 73 and 71, were found dead together in their home, local authorities said.

As of Thursday morning, parts of the town of Faenza were still underwater, with submerged cars and basements flooded with thick, sticky mud. A family standing on their balcony said they had no electricity, gas or food. Other residents took refuge in a local gymnasium, where soldiers set up beds on the basketball court for new arrivals.

“At some point they all told us to leave the area, and about an hour later we heard a big bang,” Faenza resident Claudia, 29, said Thursday, recalling the moment early Wednesday when the Lamone River burst. “The water just flooded everywhere.”

An aerial view shows homes and vehicles submerged in muddy water
Roads and homes in the area were submerged in muddy water. (Claudia Greco/Reuters)

Rescue workers carrying an old Labrador retriever dog from a flooded house
Firefighters evacuate a dog from a flooded house as 10,000 people were driven from their homes. (Claudia Greco/Reuters)

More than 10,000 people have fled their homes, some torn from roofs or balconies by rescue helicopters and others carried on dinghies. A family with a 20-day-old baby was rescued Thursday morning, Cesena Mayor Enzo Lattuca said. Another packed his things in an inflatable pool which he floated down the thigh-high mud river that had previously been a street.

But residents of other towns, such as Castel Bolognese, began cleaning up as the waters receded, with locals shoveling out basements and mud-filled storefronts.

A woman shovels mud from her storefont
There are calls for the government to declare a national emergency. (Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters)

People sitting in a flooded house, some looking discouraged
People rest as they clean a flooded house in Castel Bolognese. (Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters)

“Incalculable” damage

The drought-stricken region had already estimated losses from heavy rains at around one billion euros earlier this month, but regional president Stefano Bonaccini said losses now reached several billion given widespread damage to agricultural land, storefronts and infrastructure.

Italian agricultural lobby Coldiretti said more than 5,000 farms with greenhouses, nurseries and stables had been flooded, covering thousands of hectares of vineyards, orchards, vegetable farms and grain fields. He said the damage was “incalculable” because not only current crops but also future crops could be affected, given the permanent damage to roots caused by the “choking” mud from the runoff.

Bonaccini called on the national government to declare a state of emergency, which is likely when the Cabinet meets next week after Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni returns from the Group of Seven summit in Japan. Already, the region has said it is considering efforts to rebuild and restore vital infrastructure.

“It will take gigantic work” to recover, Bonaccini told a daily briefing.

A rescue worker in a neon vest surrounds a vehicle submerged in muddy water
Firefighters work next to a flooded car. At least 13 people were killed in the floods and mudslides. (Claudia Greco/Reuters)

A wide shot shows houses submerged in muddy water as someone stands and steers a raft
Residents use a boat to navigate the flood waters. Local leaders say the damage is “incalculable”. (Antonio Denti/Reuters)

Multiple showers

The Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research has identified Emilia-Romagna as one of the Italian regions most at risk of flooding, where the territory and the populations face a greater danger of “scenarios of danger” than the rest of the country.

The hardest-hit eastern part of the region, sandwiched between the Apennine mountain range and the Adriatic Sea, was first hit by intense rains in early May. The second downpour tested the ability of the drought-parched soil to absorb water, the institute said, adding that rising seas and winds against the coast may have contributed to the inundation of rivers and streams. tributaries.

Three people are sitting close to each other and talking in a shelter
People sit at the PalaCattani sports center which has been adapted as a shelter for displaced people. (Claudia Greco/Reuters)

Pope Francis has sent a telegram of condolences to the people of Emilia-Romagna, assuring them of his prayers, the Vatican announced Thursday.

Italy was not alone in dealing with heavy rain, as parts of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia also reported flooding and landslides that required evacuations.

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