A CYCLONE has killed 18 people and left hundreds homeless after extreme rainfall flooded eastern Sardinia.
The Italian island’s government declared a state of emergency yesterday after Cyclone Cleopatra dropped 450mm (almost 1ft 6in) of rain in an hour-and-a-half overnight, causing rivers to burst their banks, sweeping away cars and flooding homes.
“This is a national tragedy,” Italian prime minister Enrico Letta said.
The declaration of a state of emergency will allow resources to be freed up more quickly to reach devastated areas, with areas of the island under muddy floodwaters that covered cars and swamped houses, displacing an estimated 2,700 people.
The mayor of Olbia, the north-east Sardinian town among the worst-affected areas, said the sudden flooding had burst “like a bomb” with the same amount of water falling in 90 minutes as falls in Milan in six months. Mayor Gianni Giovannelli said houses across the area had been left half-submerged by the floods and rescuers were still searching for possible victims.
“We’ve just found dead a child we had been searching all night for,” he told an Italian television station. Residents told of narrow escapes as floodwater surged into their houses.
“We managed to open the door with all this water inside, it was just devastating. The kids didn’t have anything, they were naked, naked, they managed to get out by the back stairs,” said Olbia resident Francesco Brandano.
“Everything is wet, everything needs to be thrown away. Everything is gone, documents, everything. We haven’t got anything left.”
Sardinia’s governor, Ugo Cappellacci, said the 17 dead included a family of four, reportedly of Brazilian origin, in Arzachena.
Local newspaper L’Unione Sarda said a policeman helping to escort an ambulance died when the car he was travelling in was submerged in the collapse of a bridge in Dorgali. In hard-hit Gallura, three people died after their car was swept away in the collapse of another bridge, the paper said.
The Italian government set aside €20 million (£17m) in immediate emergency funds to help the rescue and clean-up work. The regional government of Sardinia separately approved €5m in aid. But the disaster has raised questions about how well-prepared Italy’s cash-strapped local governments, under increasing financial pressure after more than two years or recession, are to deal with sudden emergencies.
“We’re facing an exceptional event which has put our system of planning and management into crisis,” said Antonello Frau, deputy head of Sardinia’s geological service. “We really have to assess how we manage these situations, which are becoming more frequent.”
Flooding and landslides have been common in Italy, which is dominated in many areas by rugged mountain ranges.
The Red Cross said hundreds of people had been forced out of their homes and into temporary shelters set up in sports halls and other centres. Several bridges were swept away in Olbia and around the central town of Nuoro.
“The situation is tragic,” regional governor Ugo Cappellacci said. “The hotels in Olbia are full of people who have had to escape, but there are thousands who have damage to their homes.”
Sardinia is one of Italy’s autonomous regions. While it’s known to tourists for its pristine Costa Smeralda beaches, the island’s interior is known for its sheep and pastoral life.