Rome (AFP) – Exceptional rainfall Wednesday in a drought-hit region of northern Italy swelled rivers over their banks, killing at least six people, evacuating thousands and prompting officials to warn that Italy needs a national plan to combat climate change. Floods.
Heavy rain and flooding also forced Formula One to cancel this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix for not overburdening emergency crews who were already full in responding to the emergency.
Days of rainstorms stretched across a wide swath of northern Italy and the Balkans, with “horrific” floods, landslides and evacuations reported in Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
Emilia-Romagna’s president, Stefano Bonaccini, said six people were killed and others missing in floods that prompted the evacuation of thousands of people.
Italy’s Civil Protection Minister Nello Musimici has called for a new nationwide hydraulic engineering plan to adapt to the impact of increased flood and landslide incidents. In a statement, he noted that an average of 200 mm (7.9 in) of rain had fallen in 36 hours in the region, with some areas recording 500 mm (19.7 in) in that period.
“If you consider that this region averages 1,000 millimeters (39.3 inches) of rain per year, you realize the impact of these rains in these hours,” said Musimesi.
Citing the landslide in Ischia in November, which killed 12 people, Musimici said Italy was increasingly experiencing tropical weather similar to Africa, with long periods of drought interspersed with heavy rains that the soil could not absorb.
“Nothing will change again… and what happened in these hours is proof of that,” Musimesi said. “When soil stays dry for too long, instead of increasing its absorbent capacity, it ends up cementing and allowing rain to continue to flow over the surface and cause absolutely unimaginable damage.”
Cesena’s mayor, Enzo Latuca, posted a video early Wednesday morning on Facebook warning that as the rain continues in the Emilia-Romagna region, the Savio River and its smaller tributaries could flood for a second day. He urged residents to move to the upper floors of their homes and avoid low-lying areas and river banks. He announced that some bridges and streets were closed to traffic after rivers of mud gushed through town into basements and storefronts.
Musiamisi said 5,000 people had been evacuated, 50,000 without electricity, and more than 100,000 without mobile phones or a landline.
The deputy head of the Civil Protection Agency, Titi Postiglione, said rescue operations for those who needed emergency evacuations were particularly difficult given many roads and roads were flooded and telephone service was disrupted. Speaking on Sky TG24, she noted that the flood-affected area covered a wide swath of four counties that, until heavy rains, had been in drought for a long time.
Some regional train lines remained suspended on Wednesday around Bologna and Ravenna, Italy’s state railways said, with severe delays elsewhere.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who was on her way to a G7 meeting in Japan, said the government was monitoring the situation and was ready to agree emergency aid.
In the Balkans, the swollen Una River has flooded parts of northern Croatia and northwest Bosnia, as authorities have declared a state of emergency. The mayor of the Bosnian town of Bosanska Krupa said hundreds of homes were flooded.
“We have the end of the world,” Emin Halitović told the N1 regional network. We can no longer count the flooded buildings. It wasn’t like this before.”
Dozens of landslides have been reported in eastern Slovenia, many of which endanger homes and infrastructure.
In Croatia, hundreds of soldiers and rescue teams have continued to bring food and other essentials to people in flood-affected areas who are isolated in their homes. There have been no reports of injuries so far.
An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show that Meloni was on her way to Japan, not returning home.
Jovana Geck is contributing from Belgrade, Serbia.
“Coffee ninja. Web fan. Hipster-friendly beer enthusiast. Professional creator.”