Exceptional rains in a drought-struck region of northern Italy have swelled rivers over their banks, killing at least five people, forcing the evacuation of about 5000 people.
The heavy rains and floods also forced Formula One on Wednesday to cancel this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix to not overtax emergency crews that were already stretched thin in responding to the emergency.
Days of rainstorms stretched across a broad swath of northern Italy and the Balkans, where “apocalyptic” floods, landslides and evacuations were also reported in Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
Italian Civil Protection Minister Nello Musemeci said five people were killed in flooding that struck Emilia-Romagna particularly hard, forcing the evacuation of thousands in two dozen flooded towns. At a briefing, Musemeci said that he hoped reports of people who were unaccounted for would turn out to be false alarms.
He called for a new nationwide hydraulic engineering plan to adapt to the impact of increasing incidents of floods and landslides, noting that an average of 200 millimetres of rain had fallen in 36 hours in the region, with some areas registering 500mm in that period.
“If you consider that this region averages 1000 millimetres of rain in a year, you realise the impact that these rains have had in these hours,” Musemeci said.
Citing the November landslide in Ischia, which killed a dozen people, Musemeci said Italy is increasingly experiencing Africa-style tropical weather, with long periods of drought punctuated by intense rainfall that can’t be absorbed by the soil.
“Nothing will ever be the same again … and what has happened in these hours is evidence of that,” Musemeci said.
“When soil remains dry for a long time, instead of increasing its absorption capacity, it ends up cementing and allowing rainfall to continue flowing over the surface and causing absolutely unimaginable damage.”
Museumeci said 5000 people had been evacuated, 50,000 were without electricity, and more than 100,000 were without phone use.
Rescue operations for those needing emergency evacuations were particularly difficult given so many roads and routes were flooded and phone service interrupted.
Some regional train routes remained suspended on Wednesday around Bologna and Ravenna, with severe delays elsewhere, the Italian state railway said.