Offers of aid as Italy reels from 'worst flood in a century'


Published: 2023-05-20 10:15

Last Updated: 2024-06-08 13:26

Offers of aid as Italy reels from 'worst flood in a century'
Offers of aid as Italy reels from 'worst flood in a century'

Italy received offers of international aid on Friday for floods, described as its worst for a century, which killed 14 people and left thousands stranded in waterlogged homes or in evacuation centres.

As some areas began the clean-up following downpours earlier this week, others were newly evacuated on Thursday and authorities extended a red weather alert in parts of the Emilia Romagna region, where nearly two dozen rivers have broken their banks.

A mammoth rescue effort is underway after six months' rain fell in 36 hours, with emergency services and the armed forces searching for people stuck in their homes -- and those who lost their lives.

The latest victim found was a man recovered from a house in Faenza, a picturesque city usually surrounded by green pastures and vineyards left largely underwater.

"As Italy reels from the worst flooding there in a century, WHO Europe sends condolences for the lives lost," tweeted Hans Kluge, World Health

Organization regional director for Europe, saying it was "ready to support... as needed".

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni shared images of the disaster with fellow G7 leaders at their summit in Japan, prompting French President Emmanuel

Macron to tweet that France was "ready to provide every useful help".

Stefano Bonaccini, head of the Emilia Romagna region, called for a national plan to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, saying: "This must never happen again."

Over 15,000 people have been evacuated from their homes across the region, as farmers survey the damage that Bonaccini has compared to an earthquake.

Over half the evacuees were expected to spend the night in local refuge centres set up in gyms or hotels.

Others received hot meals from mobile kitchens deployed in several cities.

- 'Lost everything' -

AFP reporters in Faenza found residents shovelling mud out of their homes, piling sodden mattresses, clothes and furniture together in mountains of waste.

"I lost everything except for these pyjamas," said Fred Osazuwa, 58, as he surveyed the mess left of his home.

"But me and my family, we are alive. I thank God."

Pierluigi Randi, head of weather experts' association Ampro, told the Repubblica daily it was the worst flood to affect Italy in a century.

The mayor of nearby Casola Valsenio, Giorgio Sagrini, told SkyTG24: "Landslides have cut us off from the rest of the world."

"There are families stuck in their houses," he said.

The town of Lugo was one of several reporting that food and water supplies were "running low".

"We know you are tired, scared and worried," the council said to its residents in a Facebook post.

"The emergency is not over... As much as possible, stay calm and be patient," it said.

- 'Climb as high as possible' -

Authorities in Ravenna ordered several small towns to be evacuated on Thursday, while officials warned of the plight of hamlets up in the hills surrounding the city.

As rescue workers searched the filthy, debris-strewn waters, details emerged of the final moments of some of those who died.

Marina Giocometti told Corriere della Sera of the last moments of her neighbour, 75-year-old Giovanni Pavani, who was on the phone to her when waters began rushing in.

She advised him to stand on the table and said she would call the emergency services but the line suddenly cut out, she said.

One mother, Fabiana, 36, told Corriere she would "never forget" the selflessness of the man -- a Serbian cook called Dorde -- who helped carry her son to safety.

"I told my son it was a game and he had to climb as high as possible up whoever picked him up," she said.

- Sodden fruit -

The downpour caused billions of euros' (dollars') worth of damage, just a fortnight after the region was hit by another round of floods that left two people dead.

In Reda, near Faenza, 84-year-old farmer Giovanni Frega showed AFP his sodden peach and apricot trees and vines.

He is hoping the water will evaporate when the weather clears up but said there is a risk of falling fruit rotting.

"With all this water, the earth can't breathe," he said.

Formula One -- which cancelled Sunday's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola -- on Friday said it was donating one million euros ($1.1 million) to relief operations, matching a pledge made by Ferrari.

The disaster has prompted questions nationally as to why more is not being done to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Experts warn such disasters are becoming the norm due to human-induced climate change, which is exacerbating both droughts and storms.

According to the Legambiente environmental association, 6.8 million Italians live in flood-risk areas.

In 2014, then prime minister Matteo Renzi set up a task force called Italia Sicura (Safe Italy), entrusted with flood and landslide prevention.

But it was scrapped in 2018 by Giuseppe Conte -- head of a coalition government uniting the populist Five Star Movement and right-wing League -- and replaced with a project that failed to get off the ground.