More Rain Hits Northern Italy as It Struggles With Deadly Floods

Dark clouds unleashed fresh rain on Friday over the drenched northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, where flooding in recent days has caused at least 14 deaths and left thousands more homeless.

Hundreds of rescue workers toiled through the night to evacuate residents, free roads from mud and debris, restore electricity and repair telephone towers, while officials began to take a fuller accounting of the damage in a region that not long ago was wrestling with a persistent drought.

With many fields still soaked by rainfall that experts described as almost unheard-of — some areas received nearly 20 inches in 36 hours, about half the annual average — rail services were interrupted and many roads remained blocked.

“The situation is constantly changing as it keeps raining,” said Luca Cari, a spokesman for Italy’s firefighters, said in a telephone interview. “Water is still rising in some areas on the northern coast, but even where the water has receded, mud is everywhere and it’s hard to assess the damage.”

Heavy rains in early May had already saturated the soil, and on Tuesday, a storm system moving slowly across Italy funneled extreme downpours back over the same area. With the ground already near saturation, like a sponge that is already soaked with water, the rainfall had nowhere to go except to flow to the lowest points, inundating rivers, creeks and other low-lying areas.

Television images on Friday showed tree branches, garden furniture and other debris floating in the muddy water on the streets of Cervia, a coastal town of about 30,000 people near Ravenna, where firefighters and the civil protection agency were continuing to evacuate residents and their pets on rubber boats. Residents in Cervia removed the most dangerous debris from the courtyards, even as water reached up to their thighs.

Residents piled up damaged belongings from flooded homes in the Italian city of Faenza. Credit…Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Nearly two dozen rivers broke their banks this week in a vast area between the Apennine Mountains — where hilltop villages have been left isolated by landslides — and the coast.

About 10,000 people have been evacuated in a disaster that many were attributing at least in part to a combination of climate change and human development. On Friday, mayors were asking residents to move to higher ground as the latest round of rainfall threatened more flooding.

The rainfall this weekend is not expected to rival the levels seen in the past several days, but many areas remain vulnerable: Rivers are high and the ground is saturated, so any rain could exacerbate the flooding or cause landslides.

“These relatively short and small rivers that flow between the mountains and the sea had been dry for a year and a half,” said Marina Baldi, a climatologist with the Italian National Research Council. “They could not take so much water,” she added.

Ms. Baldi said that such intense rains usually hit Italy only once every 100 to 150 years, usually in the fall or winter, not in May. “It was an absolutely anomalous phenomenon,” she said, referring to the recent deluges.

Flood damage inside a home in Sant’Agata sul Santerno, near Ravenna, on Thursday.Credit…Max Cavallari/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Italian government is expected to declare a state of emergency in the region at a cabinet meeting next week, but it has already allocated 30 million euros, about $32 million, to help with the response. Government ministers also raised the possibility of asking the European Union for help.

“We have no estimate for the damage at the moment,” Rita Nicolini, director of Civil Protection for the Emilia-Romagna region, told the Italian news channel Sky TG24, noting, “We are still in the emergency phase.” She added that the preliminary assessment of over €1 billion damage should be “multiplied at least by ten.”

Ettore Prandini, president of the farmers’ association Coldiretti, said that calculating the damage to agriculture would be possible only after water had receded from vineyards and fields growing kiwi, pears and apples, among other things. He said that many large pig farms were still underwater.

In Castel Bolognese, a town of 9,500 between Bologna and San Marino, a 75-year-old man drowned while speaking on the phone with a neighbor who had tried to convince him to leave his street-level apartment as waters rose on Wednesday, according to one account.

The man, Giovanni Pavani, had put sacks of sand on the window sills and said that he felt safe, the neighbor, Marina Giacometti, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera.

A resident carried a child in a flooded street in the town of Lugo on Thursday, after heavy rains caused flooding across Italy’s northern Emilia-Romagna region.Credit…Federico Scoppa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

His last minutes were terrible, according to the newspaper account. “I’m cold, I’m cold, the water is rising,” he told Ms. Giacometti. “I see furniture floating.” Then the line went silent.

The catastrophe prompted Formula 1 to cancel the grand prix in the area this weekend, saying the deadly flooding had made it unsafe to proceed with the race at Imola, which is in Emilia-Romagna. Ferrari, which has its headquarters in the region, donated €1 million to the regional civil protection agency.

The decision to continue with a concert by Bruce Springsteen was met with some criticism on social media, even though it took place in Ferrara, far from the flooded areas. “Maybe it could have been postponed,” Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia-Romagna region, told Italian television.

Amid the tragedy, residents have shown resilience and a determination to overcome the anger and despair. On Thursday, the one sunny day this week, volunteers cleaning up the streets sang a popular folk waltz about love and nostalgia for the region. And the hoteliers’ association in the beach town of Riccione, hit by the flood this week, announced that hotels would be open and ready to welcome vacationers next week.

Judson Jones contributed reporting from Atlanta.

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