Flood disaster in Italy: devastation after record rainfall

In just 36 hours, around a third of the usual annual rainfall fell in the Emilia Romagna region. 9 people died.

Firefighters stand waist-deep in water and push a man onto the back of a truck

Firefighters rescue an elderly man from the flooded village of Castel Bolognese Photo: Luca Bruno/ap/dpa

ROME taz | Heavy rains on Tuesday and Wednesday have so far claimed nine lives and caused billions of dollars in damage in the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna. Numerous levee breaches along the river courses have left entire towns and villages under water, while landslides cut roads and villages from the outside world.

From Monday evening onwards, around 200 liters of precipitation per square meter fell within 36 hours, almost a third of the annual average. They add up to the severe storm that hit the region just two weeks earlier – almost half of the usual annual precipitation has fallen since the beginning of May. It was a misfortune with an announcement: the authorities had already issued a storm warning with the highest alert level on Monday morning and asked the citizens to stay at home. Numerous communities in the region had ordered the schools to be closed as a precaution.

The early warning may have been life-saving in many cases, but it could not change the severity of the disaster. On a total of 21 of the rivers that run from the Apennines down into the Po Valley in the direction of the Adriatic Sea, the dykes broke, sometimes for kilometers, and entire regions and cities were flooded.

The images from the cities of Faenza and Forlì, for example, appear apocalyptic. Whole streets, even districts, are flooded, the houses are under water up to the first floor, the rescue units are on their way with inflatable boats to rescue people from their homes.

Compare to the 2012 earthquake

The video of a woman standing in front of her house up to her neck in water with her three-year-old son in her arms caused a stir. She desperately calls for help until some neighbors wade through the flood to her, saving her and her child.

Or the footage of a man who, thanks to the help of rescuers, escapes at the last minute through the small window of his basement office, which is already completely flooded.

However, eight people drowned in the floods, while a man was buried in his garden by a landslide. A woman’s body was carried more than 20 kilometers to the beach of Cesenatico, where it was finally found.

Fire brigade, army and police in action

Around 13,000 citizens have been evacuated so far, but the regional administration assumes that the number is significantly higher, as many stayed with relatives or friends. The president of the region, Stefano Bonaccini, said on Wednesday that the flood disaster was “like a second earthquake”, alluding to the earthquake that struck Emilia almost exactly eleven years ago, on May 20, 2012.

In fact, not only the infrastructure, dikes, roads and bridges were severely damaged. Thousands of homes have been completely devastated and many farms are expected to lose their crops entirely. The farmers’ association Coldiretti spoke of 5,000 farms whose fields, orchards or greenhouses were flooded.

While the floods caused the disaster in the plains towards the Adriatic coast, the hilly areas in the hinterland are struggling with the consequences of around 250 landslides, which tore away or filled up numerous roads.

Thousands of helpers from civil protection, fire brigades, the army and the police are on duty. However, the organizers of Bruce Springsteen’s sold-out concert, for which 50,000 spectators were expected in Ferrara on Thursday evening, are unimpressed. “The Boss” should appear as planned, it was said on Thursday afternoon, after all the weather forecasts were positive.

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