At least nine people have died and four are missing after dramatic storms provoked severe flooding in Italy’s central Marche region, forcing politicians to finally raise the topic of the climate crisis a week before general elections.
Dozens of others are reported to have saved themselves by climbing on to rooftops and trees, in scenes described as being akin to an “apocalypse”. Fifty people are being treated in hospital.
Heavy rain began to lash the region on Thursday afternoon, with streets turning into rivers and 420mm of rain falling in the worst-hit town, Cantiano, within a few hours, half the amount that fell on the town throughout the whole of 2021, Corriere della Sera reported.
Mario Tozzi, a geologist, told La Presse that six months’ worth of rain had fallen across the region within three hours.
The regional capital of Ancona and areas surrounding it were also badly affected.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Manuela Bora, a local councillor with the centre-left Democratic party. “But there was no warning, which leaves us speechless – we weren’t prepared for such intense rain. It started yesterday and by about 9pm I was receiving videos where you could see the disaster the storms were causing. It’s a bit more under control now in Ancona city but in some towns it is very serious, like an apocalypse.”
Carlo Manfredi, the mayor of Castelleone di Suasa, told Rai News on Friday morning that rescuers were still searching for an eight-year-old boy.
“Last night we found his mother alive,” he said. “She was in her car when she saw the water coming and she got out with the child in other arms. But then they got dragged away.”
A 17-year-old girl and her mother are believed to have been swept away by flood waters near the town of Senigallia as they tried to flee the area by car.
Francesco Acquaroli, the governor of Marche, which is led by the far-right Brothers of Italy, the party on the verge of national power after elections on 25 September, said he had received calls of solidarity from President Sergio Mattarella and the prime minister, Mario Draghi. “The pain over what has happened is deep, but the Marche community is strong and will know how to react,” he said.
Giorgia Meloni, the Brothers of Italy leader who could become Italy’s prime minister, offered “full solidarity” to those affected.
The climate crisis has been largely absent from the debate in the run-up to the elections, despite scientists launching a petition in August that was signed by more than 120,000 people urging politicians to make the issue a priority.
Enrico Letta, the leader of the centre-left Democratic party, announced on Friday that he was suspending campaigning over the tragedy, adding that he was “stunned and speechless”.
“How can you think that the fight against climate change is not the first priority?” he said.
Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, wrote on Twitter that he was “very concerned by the growth of extreme weather events”.
Italy’s longest river, the Po, this year suffered its worst drought in seven decades. In early July, 11 people were killed when a huge mass of ice from a glacier on the north side of the Marmolada mountain in the Dolomites broke away, causing a fatal avalanche.