Floods in Northern Italy Kill at Least 14

WORLD NEWS: Floods in Northern Italy Kill at Least 14

Eleven years ago this month, back-to-back earthquakes struck the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, which this week was devastated by another disaster: Widespread flooding that has caused at least 14 deaths and left thousands more homeless.

On Friday, rescue workers continued to clear streets of mud, while towns in the Ravenna area remained submerged. Hundreds of roads were blocked by landslides making travel in the region difficult — with some towns cut off completely — and power was still out in some places.

Officials said the full extent of the damage was still not clear in the region, which had recently been plagued by drought and where few have forgotten the devastating 2012 earthquake.

“We couldn’t have imagined that we would commemorate the 11th anniversary of the earthquake — moreover with the satisfaction of having rebuilt practically everything or almost everything — with a new earthquake to deal with, because that’s what it is,” Stefano Bonaccini, the president of the Emilia-Romagna region, said in reference to the flooding at a news conference on Friday evening.

But he added the 2012 earthquake had taught an important lesson: “While dealing with the emergency, it is important to plan ahead and think of reconstruction,” he said, adding: “We must keep marching on and go back to producing and creating jobs, to give people a chance.”

While the Emilia-Romagna region might be less known to foreigners than neighboring Tuscany, many will be familiar with some of its food products, like Parmesan cheese, from Parma and Reggio Emilia; balsamic vinegar from Modena; and cured Parma ham. Coastal towns like Rimini and Riccione are popular beach resorts.

But most of the region’s businesses shut their doors this week. Even if spared the rains, hundreds of roads and bridges, essential for transporting goods, were out of commission.

“We’re waiting for the waters to subside before we can assess the damage,” said Annalisa Sassi, the president of the region’s industrial association. “What I can say, knowing this territory, is that it is very hard-working. So I can imagine we will find the rich spirit that emerged after the earthquake. These are people who don’t give up.”

Experts described the rainfall this week as exceptional. Some areas received nearly 20 inches in 36 hours, about half the annual average. Heavy rains in early May had already saturated the soil, and on Tuesday, a storm system moving slowly across Italy funneled extreme downpours back over the same area.

With the ground already near saturation, like a sponge that is already soaked with water, the rainfall had nowhere to go except to flow to the lowest points, inundating rivers, creeks and other low-lying areas.

Nearly two dozen rivers broke their banks in a vast area between the Apennine Mountains — where hilltop villages have been left isolated by landslides — and the Adriatic coast.

“Many mayors are tired,” Irene Priolo, vice president of the region, said at a news conference Friday, describing the rescue efforts that have involved hundreds of emergency workers. Fabrizio Curcio, head of the national civil protection agency, said the vastness of the territory affected by flooding and landslides “complicated the situation.”

Rainfall this weekend is not expected to rival the levels seen in the past several days, but many areas remain vulnerable: Rivers are high, so any additional rain could exacerbate the flooding or cause landslides.

“These relatively short and small rivers that flow between the mountains and the sea had been dry for a year and a half,” said Marina Baldi, a climatologist with the Italian National Research Council. “They could not take so much water.”

This part of Emilia-Romagna is particularly vulnerable. Its fertile flatlands, once marshes just above the sea level, have always been exposed to flooding. The Apennines are susceptible to landslides because of the fragile rocks they are made of, and the slopes’ grades make them unstable in case of heavy rains.

Ms. Baldi said that such intense rains usually hit Italy only once every 100 to 150 years, mostly in the fall or winter, not in May. “It was an absolutely anomalous phenomenon,” she said, referring to the recent deluges.

Ms. Sassi, of the industrialists association, said that “new approaches” had to be adopted when it came to mapping out future plans and that those approaches needed to take into consideration abnormal weather patterns. “For us it’s a priority issue, one we’ve been talking about for the past few years.”

The Italian government is expected to declare a state of emergency in the region next week, but it has already allocated 30 million euros, about $32 million, to help with the response. Government ministers also raised the possibility of asking the European Union for help.

Stefano Francia, regional president of the farmers’ association C.I.A., said that calculating the damage to agriculture would be possible only after water had receded from the fields, and vineyards on the hillsides had been shored up.

“But there is a great desire to start up again,” he said. “It’s the spirit of Emilia-Romagna to not give up.”

The flooding prompted Formula 1 to cancel the grand prix in the area this weekend, saying the deadly flooding had made it unsafe to proceed with the race at Imola, which is in Emilia-Romagna. Ferrari, which has its headquarters in the region, donated €1 million to the regional civil protection agency.

The decision to continue with a concert by Bruce Springsteen was met with some criticism on social media, even though it took place in Ferrara, far from the flooded areas. “Maybe it could have been postponed,” Mr. Bonaccini, president of the Emilia-Romagna region, told Italian television.

The hoteliers association in the beach town of Riccione, hit by the storm this week, announced Friday that hotels would be open and ready to welcome vacationers next week.

“Our seaside will be ready as always to welcome tourists, and we must send a clear message,” Mr. Bonaccini said Friday. “Nothing will stop, people can and must come to give a hand to our economy.”

Judson Jones contributed reporting from Atlanta.

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