IMOLA, Italy (AP) — Exceptional rain in a drought-stricken region of northern Italy on Wednesday caused rivers to overflow their banks, killing at least eight people, forcing thousands to evacuate and prompting officials to warn that Italy needs a national plan to combat the climate. Change induced flooding.
Heavy rain has forced the cancellation of this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, so as not to overtax emergency teams stretched thin in response to rivers of mud that have already torn through the region, wreaking havoc on infrastructure and homes.
Days of rain continued across northern Italy and a wide swath of the Balkans, with “apocalyptic” floods, landslides and evacuations reported in Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia as well.
Emilia-Romagna’s deputy governor, Irene Briolo, said eight people were killed and others unaccounted for in floods that forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people.
Officials said one of the dead was a farmer who tried to brave the floodwaters to store equipment on his property. Among the missing was his wife.
Rescue helicopters plucked people from rooftops as floodwaters rose ever higher into homes. In one rescue, a Coast Guard member pulled a woman out of her home through a skylight and held onto her as the two were pulled into a floating helicopter.
“Even the upper floors are no longer safe,” Gian Luca Zattini, mayor of Forli, one of the hardest-hit towns, told Sky DG24 TV.
Italian Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumesi called for a new nationwide hydraulic engineering plan to respond to the impact of increasing floods and landslides. In one conference, the region averaged 200 millimeters (7.9 in) of rain in 36 hours, with some areas recording 500 millimeters (19.7 in) in that period.
“If you consider that this region receives an average of 1,000 millimeters (39.3 inches) of rain in a year, you understand the impact these rains have had in these hours,” Musumesi said.
Citing the November landslide in Ischia that killed a dozen people, he said Italy was increasingly experiencing the tropical climate seen in parts of Africa and other parts of the world, with long periods of drought that could not be absorbed by heavy rains. Soil.
“It will never be the same again … as evidenced by what happened in these hours,” Musumesi said. “When soil is dry for long periods of time, instead of increasing its absorptive capacity, it allows cement and precipitation to continue to flow onto the surface and cause absolutely unimaginable damage.”
Adding to Italy’s vulnerability to climate change-induced flooding are already fragile hydrological conditions in much of the country. Italy also needs to catch up to decades of people building in areas prone to landslides or floods — houses that are allowed to remain in place thanks to occasional government amnesties.
The mayor of Cesena, Enzo Latuca, posted a video on Facebook early Wednesday morning to warn that the Savio River and smaller tributaries would flood for a second day in the Emilia-Romagna region due to persistent rain. He asked residents to move to the upper floors of their houses and avoid low-lying areas and river banks.
Musumeci said 50,000 people lost electricity, and more than 100,000 lost cell phone or landline access.
Many of the residents who vacate their homes are hauled in rubber boats, which are routinely hauled every summer to the region’s thriving beach resorts on the Adriatic Sea, and dragged through flooded streets.
Titti Postiglione, deputy head of the Civil Protection Agency, said many roads and routes were flooded and telephone service was cut, making rescue operations more difficult for those in need of emergency evacuation.
Some regional train lines around Bologna and Ravenna were suspended on Wednesday, with severe delays elsewhere, Italian state railways said.
Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, who is traveling to the G-7 meeting in Japan, said the government was monitoring the situation and prepared to approve emergency aid.
In the Balkans, the Una River overflowed and inundated parts of northern Croatia and northwestern Bosnia, where authorities declared a state of emergency. Hundreds of houses have been flooded, the mayor of Bosanska Krupa in Bosnia said.
“We have a catastrophe,” Amin Halitović told the regional N1 network. “The flooded buildings can no longer be counted. It has never been like this before.”
Dozens of landslides were reported in eastern Slovenia, many of them endangering homes and infrastructure.
In Croatia, hundreds of soldiers and rescue teams continued to bring food and other necessities to people stranded in homes in flood-hit areas. No casualties have been reported so far.
This story has been edited to show that the last name of the Italian Minister of Civil Defense is Musumesi, not Musemesi. An earlier version was edited to show that Meloni was traveling to Japan and did not come home.
Winfield reported from Rome. Joanna Zeke contributed from Belgrade, Serbia, and Francis D’Emilio contributed from Rome.