Berliner TageBlatt - Eight dead, Grand Prix cancelled after flooding devastates northern Italy

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Eight dead, Grand Prix cancelled after flooding devastates northern Italy
Eight dead, Grand Prix cancelled after flooding devastates northern Italy / Foto: © AFP

Eight dead, Grand Prix cancelled after flooding devastates northern Italy

At least eight people died in Italy's northern Emilia Romagna region as heavy rains flooded rivers and submerged entire neighbourhoods and farmland Wednesday, prompting the cancellation of this weekend's Imola Grand Prix.


Downpours that pounded the region's flatlands over two days caused nearly two dozen rivers to burst their banks, putting vast stretches of territory under water and causing thousands of residents to be evacuated.

"The city is on its knees, devastated and in pain," said Gian Luca Zattini, the mayor of Forli, a city south of regional capital Bologna.

"It's the end of the world."

Regional authorities confirmed eight dead, seven of them in the area around Forli and the city of Cesena.

Some 37 municipalities experienced flooding, while many also reported landslides.

Two of the bodies in Forli were recovered by divers on Wednesday morning, as part of a huge rescue effort involving emergency services, armed forces and over 1,000 volunteers.

Television images showed emergency workers carrying residents across flooded streets or transported in inflatable boats, vast parking lots completely submerged in water, while torrents of water rushed through the UNESCO-recognised porticoes of Bologna.

A video taken by Italy's coastguard showed rescuers in a helicopter pulling up two elderly people from the roof of a home where the water level had nearly covered the first-floor windows.

One of Italy's richest regions, Emilia Romagna had already been hit by heavy rain two weeks ago, causing floods that left two dead.

This time, around 50 centimetres (20 inches) of rain fell within 36 hours in Forli, Cesena and Ravenna -- around half the normal annual rainfall, a situation "with few precedents", Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci said.

"It is still a very critical situation," Musumeci told reporters.

The flooding caused the cancellation of Sunday's Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix scheduled in Imola, with organisers saying they could not guarantee the safety of fans, teams and staff.

- 'We're scared' -

Regional President Stefano Bonaccini said Emilia Romagna had been hit "like an earthquake".

Rescue workers had scrambled through the night to save children, the elderly and the disabled from the rising waters.

"We're scared, this time we're scared," said Simona Matassoni, the owner of Cesena's Hotel Savio, which had so far escaped flooding.

"I was born here, I've seen lots of full rivers, but never anything like this," she told AFP by telephone early on Wednesday.

Over 10,000 people have been evacuated, authorities said, including some 3,000 in Bologna and 5,000 in Ravenna. Around 50,000 people were without electricity.

The civil protection agency urged "maximum caution", as mayors warned people to stay on high ground.

In Forli, an AFP photographer saw people in a state of shock as they fled on Tuesday night through floodwaters in the dark in their bare feet.

- Drought, then torrents -

Elsewhere, locals in Cesena swam down a road to rescue a three-year-old child and a man was seen wading through high water with his cat.

"We absolutely must not lower our guard," Cesena mayor Enzo Lattuca said on Facebook.

Residents "must not under any account go into basements or cellars" and should "stay out of ground floors if possible", he said.

"We have to get used to it for the future, because unfortunately in recent years it often happens that these extreme rainfalls arrive," Air Force meteorologist Paolo Capizzi told AFP.

"We have to get used to this type of climate."

He said it could not directly be blamed on global warming but the "ever-increasing frequency of these phenomenon can obviously be the consequence of ongoing climate change".

Rain over the flooded area was expected to subside on Thursday.