Firefighters in the Italian city of Palermo have worked through the night searching for people thought to have been trapped in a car in a flooded underpass after the most “violent” rainstorm in memory, according to local officials.
The rain, which reportedly fell intensely for several hours, caused widespread flooding in Palermo on Wednesday and resulted in the hospitalisation of two small children for hypothermia, Italian news agency ANSA said.
As the underpass search continued, police said they had received no report of people missing.
Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo on the island of Sicily, described the downpour as “the most violent rain in the history of the city since at least 1790, equal to that which falls in a year”.
The statement does not appear to be entirely true as the annual rainfall for Palermo is approximately 615mm (24 inches) and local reports suggested that roughly 80mm (3 inches) of rain fell in a few minutes.
The rain’s effect, however, was obviously severe, with at least one metre (3.3 feet) of floodwater gathering in underpasses and lower parts of the city – an extraordinary event for July when then the average rainfall in Palermo is 5mm and rain is expected on just one day of the month.
Its cause was not unusual, but unfortunate; an arc of summer thunderstorms formed over the Tyrrhenian Sea and drifted slowly over southern Italy.