Older and disabled people were trapped in their homes as rescuers worked under pounding rain throughout the night to save people in the most catastrophic flooding to affect Italy in 100 years.
The floods in the northern Emilia-Romagna region have claimed 13 lives as of Thursday evening. An estimated 20,000 have been left homeless in a disaster that caused 23 rivers to burst their banks and 280 landslides, engulfing 41 cities and towns.
Roads remained blocked, including the A1, after a landslide in Sasso Marconi on Thursday afternoon, and trains were cancelled or disrupted.
Among the dead were an elderly couple trapped inside their home in Cava, a hamlet in the province of Forlì-Cesena. “We heard their cries for help,” a neighbour told Il Messaggero newspaper. “We tried to get them out, but it was useless.”
An 80-year-old man drowned in his cellar after going to retrieve belongings, and a couple, identified as Sauro Manuzzi and Marinella Maraldi, who owned a company that produces herbs, were hit by the floods in the field opposite their home. The body of Maraldi (70), was swept 12 miles down a river before being found on a beach along the Adriatic coast. A 76-year-old man was killed after being hit by a landslide in his garden, while another man, aged 43, died after falling into a well while trying to pump water away from his property.
Firefighters have carried out 2,000 rescue operations across the region and in parts of central Marche that were also affected by the floods.
Forty elderly people were saved from a care home overnight as police were inundated with calls seeking help. A caller in Faenza, among the worst-hit towns, told police: “My neighbours are elderly. One has Alzheimer’s. They’re unable to leave by themselves. Somebody must come. There’s too much mud.”
Elderly people who sought refuge on rooftops were saved by helicopters, as were entire families. Volunteers described carrying people out of their homes.
The floods have destroyed homes and shops and left more than 5,000 farms under water, according to Coldiretti, Italy’s largest agricultural association.
The situation in Cesena, which was also badly hit, had slightly improved by Thursday afternoon.
Pierluigi Randi, the president of Ampro, the association of weather experts, told La Repubblica it was the worst flood to affect Italy in a century. It followed flooding in Emilia-Romagna and parts of Marche in early May in which two people died. Six months’ worth of rain fell in two weeks.
“We need to prepare ourselves, this is the climate crisis,” Randi said.
Before the floods, Emilia-Romagna and other areas of northern Italy were blighted by a drought that dried out land, reducing its capacity to absorb water.