Older and disabled people were trapped in their homes as rescuers worked under pounding rain throughout the night to save people in the most catastrophic flooding to affect Italy in 100 years.
The floods in the Northern Emilia-Romagna region have claimed nine lives, with many people still reported missing as of Thursday morning. An estimated 20,000 have been left homeless in a disaster that caused 23 rivers to burst their banks and 280 landslides, engulfing 41 cities and towns, The Independent reported.
Among the dead were an elderly couple trapped inside their home in Cava, a hamlet in the province of Forlì-Cesena.
“We heard their cries for help,” a neighbour told Il Messaggero, adding, “We tried to get them out, but it was useless.”
An 80-year-old man drowned in his cellar after going to retrieve belongings, and a couple, identified as Sauro Manuzzi and Marinella Maraldi, who owned a company that produces herbs, were hit by the floods in the field opposite their home. The body of Maraldi, 70, was swept 12 miles down a river before being found on a beach along the Adriatic coast. A 76-year-old man was killed after being hit by a landslide in his garden, while another man, aged 43, died after falling into a well while trying to pump water away from his property.
Firefighters have carried out 2,000 rescue operations across the region and in parts of Central Marche that were also affected by the floods.
Forty elderly people were saved from a care home overnight as police were inundated with calls seeking help.
A caller in Faenza, among the worst hit towns, told police, “My neighbours are elderly, one has Alzheimer’s, they’re unable to leave by themselves. Somebody must come, there’s too much mud.”
Elderly people who sought refuge on rooftops were saved by helicopters, as were entire families. Volunteers described carrying people out of their homes. Paolo Meoni, a volunteer working in Cesena, told La Nazione newspaper, “We worked all night in the pouring rain. In some cases, we carried the elderly and disabled in our arms and brought them on a dinghy to rescuers, who in turn transported them to shelters.”
He added, “The water was 40cm high, but the heavy rain, which lasted until 6am, made things worse.”
Stefano Bonaccini, the president of Emilia-Romagna, compared the devastation to the earthquake that hit the region in 2012 in which 28 people died.
“The damage will be quantitatively smaller, but it will be a few billion euros,” he told Rai 3, adding, “We will rebuild everything as we did for the earthquake.”
Pierluigi Randi, the president of Ampro, the association of weather experts, told La Repubblica it was the worst flood to affect Italy in a century. It followed flooding in Emilia-Romagna and parts of Marche in early May in which two people died. Six months’ worth of rain fell in two weeks.
“We need to prepare ourselves, this is the climate crisis,” Randi said.
Before the latest floods, Emilia-Romagna and other areas of Northern Italy were blighted by a drought that dried out land, reducing its capacity to absorb water.