Floods displace more than 36,000 residents in northeast Italy

Deadly floods caused more than 305 landslides and damaged or closed more than 500 roads in the Emilia-Romagna region.

A view taken on May 20, 2023 shows an elderly man in the sports hall of Castel Bolognese
Residents were evacuated from their homes after floodwaters hit the Emilia-Romagna region [Andreas Solaro/AFP]

More than 36,000 people have been forced from their homes by deadly floods in northeast Italy, regional officials have said, as rising waters swallowed more houses and new landslides isolated hamlets.

Fourteen people were killed this week after streets in the cities and towns of the Emilia-Romagna region were transformed into rivers.

A helicopter involved in attempts to restore electricity crashed on Saturday near Lugo, injuring one of the four people on board, the fire service said.

The torrential floods caused more than 305 landslides and damaged or closed in excess of 500 roads in the region.

Video footage from the affected towns showed cars submerged in water and flooded homes, as some residents rode bicycles or paddled through the watery streets.

Bologna’s mayor Matteo Lepore said Saturday it would take “months, and in some places maybe years” for roads and infrastructure to be repaired.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from the city of Faenza in the Emilia-Romagna region, said the damage was visible “everywhere”.

“The city is covered with mud and the people are beginning to understand the extent of what’s gone – present and past,” she said.

Faenza, which is known for its ceramics, was discovering the damage “minute by minute”. “People are doing their best to salvage pieces of art,” Abdel-Hamid said.

The local library reported more than 10,000 books lost to the floods.

People are rescued in Faenza, Italy,
People are rescued in Faenza, Italy [Luca Bruno/AP]

In the town of Lugo, some evacuated flood victims sheltered in a national museum, where volunteers provided cots for them to sleep on.

“I am very happy here … But I feel bad,” 74-year-old evacuee Gabriella Valenti told Reuters. “I am among the luckiest maybe … I still have a home but there are people who lost everything. They don’t know what to do to make us feel good.”

The floods are the latest in a series of extreme weather events that have slammed Italy over the past year, as once exceptional disasters become a regular part of life.

The same area of Emilia-Romagna was battered by extreme weather at the beginning of May, with at least two people dying during storms.

Heavy rains followed months of drought which had dried out the land, reducing its capacity to absorb water, meteorologists said.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she would leave the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima a day earlier than scheduled to lead the response to the flooding.

“I have decided to come back to Italy. Frankly, I can’t stay so far away from Italy at such a difficult time. After two days and more away, my conscience requires me to come back,” she told a news briefing, adding that she had informed the other G7 leaders.

Earlier in the day, Meloni thanked the G7 leaders and everyone from other countries who had expressed solidarity with Italy and those affected by the flooding.

“Your closeness is a tangible sign of our cohesion in difficult times. Thank you,” she said in a tweet.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Unipol Gruppo agreed to join forces to help people hit by flooding in northern Italy connect to the internet, facilitating rescue operations, the Italian insurer said on Saturday.

Under the agreement, Unipol acquired SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet terminals and will make them available for rescuers, hospitals and the public. SpaceX is positioning its satellites to prioritise the Emilia-Romagna region and provide improved coverage.

“SpaceX, Starlink and Tesla are happy to be of use in any way to help Italy and the people affected by the flooding”, Musk said in a statement.

Musk-founded SpaceX, which sent more than 5,000 Starlink satellite internet dishes to Ukraine in the days after Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Emilia-Romagna regional President Stefano Bonaccini said the region will recover from the devastating floods by implementing lessons learned from the 2012 earthquake.

“If there is a lesson we learned from the earthquake, it is that any emergency calls for prompt and rapid reconstruction,” Bonaccini said.

“Nothing will stop”, the governor told reporters, referring to business, tourism and other activities in the wealthy northern region.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies