At least 18 die as Sardinia pummelled by 100km/h winds and flash floods

2,700 homeless as equivalent of six months of rain falls in 24 hours and rivers become torrents

Helicopter footage shows flooded residential areas and fields, a swollen river and damaged roads in the vicinity of the central town of Nuoro.

Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 01:00

At least 18 people died and a further 2,700 were left homeless in Sardinia yesterday after the Mediterranean island was hit by an autumn storm of unusual ferocity. As turbulence from the north Atlantic came in contact with the still warm Mediterranean waters, the resultant explosion generated winds of up to 100km/h and the equivalent of six months rainfall in just 24 hours.

The northeastern part of Sardinia, around the town of Olbia, was worst hit. Rivers, canals and drainage systems were totally unable to deal with the rainfall, with small rivers becoming raging torrents which swept away roads, bridges, trees, farm buildings and animals.

The Enrico Letta-led coalition government has declared a state of emergency in Sardinia.

For those who attempted to move to safety, the result was often fatal.

Three people died when a road bridge under which they were travelling collapsed on their car, close to Olbia. In the area of Nuoro, a policeman died as he attempted to provide an escort for an ambulance when a bridge over the river Cedrino also collapsed. Even those who opted not to move were not spared.

In the small village of Azarchena, a Brazilian family, two parents and two children, drowned when they became trapped in their basement flat.

As always with Italian environmental disasters, yesterday’s tragedy prompted polemics as to whether the Civil Protection services had given people adequate warnings of the impending dangers.

At a press conference yesterday, Franco Gabrielli, head of the Civil Protection and the man who oversaw the Costa Concordia refloat operation, angrily rejected these allegations.

Civil Protection sources said that many people who had been advised to move chose to reject that advice only to then find themselves dealing with 10 feet of flood water, which eventually forced them to abandon the ground floor of their dwellings.

Minister for the environment Andrea Orlando also defended the national early warning system, saying that a “maximum alert” warning had been issued.

His remarks did little to convince Italy’s various environmental lobbies, such as Legambiente, which yesterday said: “We have to intervene quickly . . . in order to safeguard the country, to safeguard those five million Italians who live and work in areas considered to be at hydro-geological risk . . .”

Most Italian environmentalists argue that yesterday’s tragedy is caused by a combination of too much building, too little preventive maintenance (drainage) and freakish weather.

Every second or third autumn in Italy is marked by tragedies similar to yesterday’s, be it in Calabria, Sicily, Liguria or Piedmont.

Yesterday’s tragedy also led to calls from the M5S protest movement to abandon huge public works projects such as the high speed train line between Turin and Lyon, because of its possible impact on the environment.