Italy flood death toll rises to 14

Rescue workers search for people still cut off by flood waters in Italy's Emilia Romagna region. – Facebook pic, May 19, 2023.

THE toll from floods that have devastated the Emilia Romagna region in Italy rose to 14 today, amid calls for the government to revive an abandoned project to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.

Authorities in Ravenna ordered the immediate evacuation of two small towns and issued an “extremely urgent” call for residents to reduce their movements to a minimum in the region, which was still subject to a red weather alert.

“The death toll has risen to 14,” a spokeswoman for the region told AFP.

The latest victim to be found was a man recovered from a flooded house in Faenza, a picturesque city usually surrounded by green pastures and vineyards, left largely underwater after the fierce downpour earlier this week.

Nearly half of the 10,000 people evacuated from their homes spent the night in local refuge centres set up in gyms or hotels, with others receiving hot meals from mobile kitchens deployed in several cities.

Locals in Faenza shovelled mud out of their homes, piling sodden mattresses, clothes and furniture together in mountains of waste.

In Ravenna, rain was still falling and mayor Massimo Isola described a “disastrous situation” in hamlets up in the hills surrounding the city.

As rescue workers searched for people still cut off by the waters, details emerged of the final moments of some of those who died.

One, 75-year-old Giovanni Pavani, refused to leave his house Tuesday, telling his neighbour Marina Giocometti he had put sandbags along the windows and would be fine, according to the Corriere della Sera daily.

He was on the phone to her when waters began rushing in, telling her “I’m cold, so cold. The furniture’s floating around the house”, she said.

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

The rescue of a three-year-old boy from his mother’s arms, as she stood outside her house in water up to her chest, calling for help, went viral on Wednesday.

Fabiana, 36, told the paper Friday she would “never forget” the selflessness of the man, a Serbian cook called Dorde, who swam to her and took the boy, hoisting him onto his shoulder, before swimming him 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.

The downpour, which saw half a year’s rainfall in just 36 hours, caused billions of euros worth of damage and prompted questions nationally as to why more is not being done in terms of climate change mitigation.

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. – AFP, May 19, 2023.

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