- Flooding was reported in 37 cities and towns
- The Imola F1 Grand Prix has been called off
- Although the rainfall is decreasing, the water level of the river is rising
ROME, May 17 (Reuters) – Nine people died and thousands were forced from their homes in northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region after torrential rain triggered floods and landslides, officials said on Wednesday.
Civil Defense Minister Nello Musumesi said that in some areas the average annual rainfall had halved in just 36 hours, causing rivers to burst their banks, water to flow through towns and thousands of acres of farmland to be submerged.
Sunday’s Formula One Grand Prix at Imola, close to many of the worst-hit areas, was called off in a bid to ease pressure on emergency services and prevent motor racing fans from congregating in flooded areas.
“We are facing unprecedented catastrophic events,” Stefano Bonacini, head of the Emilia-Romagna region, told reporters. “Extraordinary amounts of rain have fallen on the ground, which has no capacity to absorb it.”
The Adriatic coastal city of Ravenna, famous for its early Christian heritage sites, was badly affected. A local interior ministry representative said around 14,000 people had to be evacuated from the area soon.
Officials said 37 towns and communities were inundated and around 120 landslides were recorded. At least one bridge near the city of Bologna collapsed, some roads were flooded and several train services were suspended.
Nine bodies were recovered from various locations, Bonacini said. Regional vice president Irene Briolo told reporters that the river’s water level is rising even though the rain has subsided.
Civil Defense Minister Musumeci said he would ask the cabinet to find 20 million euros ($22 million) for the affected area when it meets on May 23 to consider relief measures.
Tax and mortgage payments will be suspended for flood-affected areas during the emergency, government officials said.
Floods follow dry months
Emilia-Romagna has been hit by bad weather for the second time this month, with at least two people killed in storms in early May.
Months of rain have left the land dry and less able to absorb water, exacerbating the impact of floods, meteorologists said.
Muddy water rushed through the historic centers of Fenza, Cesena and Forli, washing the roofs off parked cars, inundating some shops and forcing locals to run to the upper floors of their homes.
Drone footage from the Imola race circuit showed part of the paddock under water. Organizers said the decision to cancel the Grand Prix was made “because it is not possible to run the event safely for our fans, teams and our staff”.
“It was the worst night in the history of Romagna,” Ravenna mayor Michele de Pascale told RAI public radio, adding that 5,000 people were evacuated from his city on Tuesday night.
“Ravenna is unrecognizable after damage.”
Minister Musumesi said some parts of the region had received between 200mm and 500mm of rain in 1-1/2 days, with the average annual rainfall being 1,000mm.
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Reporting by Alvis Armellini Editing by Christina Fincher
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