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.
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.
The heavy rains follow a drought that affected much of northern Italy last winter, and a record lack of rain last summer.
“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”.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, on her way to the G7 summit in Japan, tweeted her support for those affected and said the government was “ready to intervene with the necessary aid”.
Rain over the flooded area was expected to subside on Thursday.