Floods in Italy kill at least 13 people and displace thousands; farmland destroyed
Unusually heavy rains and floods hit northern Italy last week, submerging roads and homes and damaging infrastructure in the Emilia-Romagna region. Extreme weather has stretched as far as near Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
The floods triggered a national emergency response in Italy. Regional authorities said on Saturday that more than 36,000 people in Emilia-Romagna have been forced to leave their homes and seek temporary shelter.
The extreme weather has also caused widespread crop and livestock losses, prompting warnings from industry groups. Emilia-Romagna is known for its agricultural production and is home to some of Italy’s most famous food exports, including Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham.
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Emilia-Romagna was already hit by heavy rain and flooding earlier this month, when at least two people were killed.
Speaking from St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis said, “I renew my deep closeness to the people of Emilia-Romagna, who have been hit by floods in recent days,” according to the news agency. ANSA.
The latest heavy rains are particularly devastating because they came as Italy and other southern European countries were experiencing dry conditions and drought. Very dry soil is less able to absorb precipitation and heavy rain falling on parched ground contributed to rapid runoff to nearby rivers and other flooded locations.
Experts say rising temperatures linked to climate change are likely to make heavy rains and some other extreme weather events more frequent and intense.
In Emilia-Romagna, flood damage to infrastructure could cost more than $670 million (620 million euros) to repair, according to a preliminary assessment Saturday of the region, which said costs could rise as as more information will come. In the regional capital of Bologna authorities alone said the bad weather caused $119 million (€110 million) in damage to the road network.
Italian farmers’ federation Coldiretti said more than 880 million pounds of wheat had been lost this year due to extreme weather in the region and warned that stagnant floodwaters could jeopardize fruit crops during four to five years.
“The slow trickle of water left in orchards ‘chokes’ tree roots until they rot and risk ruining entire plantations that will take years to become productive again,” Coldiretti said, according to CNN. .
The group said more than 5,000 farms had been affected, with animals drowning in floodwaters in Emilia-Romagna. The region is one of the wealthiest in Italy and is known for its manufacturing and food industries. Today, more than 50,000 jobs are at risk, Coldiretti said.
The destruction of durum wheat crops – which are used to make pasta – comes as the Italian government announced initiatives to tackle the country’s cost of living crisis, including investigating increases in the price of pasta and other staple foods.
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With thousands of homes flooded or inaccessible, Italian authorities have set up emergency shelters in hotels, schools and gymnasiums. Evacuations continued on Saturday, and some 3,000 people were ordered to evacuate from the town of Lavezzola, in the province of Ravenna, according to the Civil Protection Department.
Most of the Emilia-Romagna region was still under a red weather alert – indicating a potentially dangerous situation – or an orange alert for Sunday. In addition, the Italian meteorological service warned that a storm located between Calabria and Sicily would bring intense rains to Tuscany and Lazio, in the center of the country.
Ian Livingston contributed to this report.