At least 9 people were killed in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna as torrential rains on Wednesday flooded rivers, inundating entire neighborhoods and farmland, prompting the cancellation of the weekend’s Imola Grand Prix.
Floods inundate Italy
The torrential rains that hit the flatlands of the region over the course of two days caused nearly twenty rivers to overflow, inundating vast areas of land and evacuating thousands of residents.
“We saw from the (second floor) window the water gradually rising,” Davide Maldola, a resident of Cesena, told AFP, as he stood on the ruins of his flooded house, where the water rose to 1.5 meters (five feet).
“Helicopters flew all night to save people,” he added.
In neighboring Forlì, southeast of the regional capital, Bologna, Mayor Gianluca Zattini said his city was “devastated and in pain,” noting that what happened was like “the end of the world.”
The regional authorities confirmed that 9 people were killed, 7 of them in the area around Forlì and Cesena.
Floods occurred in 41 municipalities, while many more reported landslides.
Thousands of farms in the fertile agricultural region were affected, but Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida said the waters must recede for the government to quantify the damage.
Divers recovered two of the bodies in Forlì, part of a massive rescue effort involving emergency services, the armed forces and more than 1,000 volunteers.
Floods and thick mud
Television footage showed emergency workers ferrying residents through flooded streets or being transported in inflatable dinghies, vast parking lots completely submerged, and torrents of water rushing through UNESCO-recognized Bologna’s porticoes.
A video clip taken by the Italian Coast Guard showed rescue workers in a helicopter pulling two elderly people from the roof of a house where the water level almost covered the windows of the first floor.
Cars were submerged and in areas where the water receded, while streets were littered with thick mud and debris.
One of Italy’s richest regions, Emilia-Romagna, was already hit by torrential rains two weeks ago, causing floods that left two people dead.
Civil Protection Minister Nilo Musumesi said this time about 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rain fell in 36 hours in Forlì, Cesena and Ravenna – about half the usual annual rainfall.
Musumesi added that 20 million euros ($22 million) in emergency funds will be unlocked in the region, in addition to the 10 million euros that were given after previous floods.
Flooding has caused Sunday’s Formula 1 Emilia-Romagna grand prix scheduled in Imola to be canceled as organizers said they could not guarantee the safety of fans, teams and staff.
A state of shock
Rescue workers rushed through the night to save children, the elderly and people with special needs from the rising waters.
Authorities said more than 10,000 people had been evacuated, including about 3,000 in Bologna and 5,000 in Ravenna, and about 50,000 people had no electricity.
Drought to flood
The heavy rains came on the heels of a drought that ravaged much of northern Italy last winter and led to record shortfalls in precipitation last summer.
“We have to get used to it in the future, because unfortunately in recent years it often happens that these heavy rains arrive,” Air Force meteorologist Paolo Capese told AFP.
He added that global warming could not be directly blamed but that “the ever-increasing frequency of this phenomenon could clearly be a result of ongoing climate change”.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who is in Japan to attend the G7 summit, tweeted to support those affected, as she said the government was “ready to intervene with the necessary assistance.”
The rains are expected to subside in the flooded area on Thursday.
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