Search for victims as Sardinia floods leave 18 dead
(AFP) Italian emergency workers are searching house by house on the island of Sardinia after a Mediterranean cyclone triggered flash floods, leaving 18 people dead and forcing thousands to seek emergency shelter.
Rivers broke their banks at the height of the storm on Monday, sweeping away bridges, bringing down power lines and flooding hundreds of homes - some of them in low-lying rural areas that have yet to be reached.
"We are looking inside homes, inside basements, particularly in outlying areas," Gianfranco Galaffu, local director of the civil protection agency for the worst affected northern part of the island, said on Tuesday.
"There is a lot to do. The activity is frenetic. For now we are taking care of the most acute emergencies," he said, adding that personnel and equipment were being sent in from other parts of Sardinia and mainland Italy.
Thousands were displaced by the flooding, said Environment Minister Andrea Orlando.
"Around 2,700 people had to leave their homes and are staying in community shelters or with their families," said Orlando, speaking in front of Italy's parliament.
The minister announced that an earlier death toll of 17 had risen to 18.
20,000 people affected by floods
A government meeting on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for the island and allocated 20 million euros for emergency assistance, while the regional government provided five million euros.
A few people - estimated at between two and four by different officials - were still reported missing.
Rescuers said that more victims could be found in flooded homes or cars and that around 20,000 people had been affected.
Soldiers and navy personnel were deployed in the region, as local rescue services said their efforts were being hampered by the damage to roads. Rescue dogs were also being used, officials said.
"We are focusing on essential operations: saving human lives, assisting displaced people and clearing road access," Prime Minister Enrico Letta told a press conference after an emergency cabinet meeting.
The port city of Olbia, a popular destination in the summer months, was swept by floodwaters which receded on Tuesday, and hotels, sports halls and private homes were being used to shelter displaced people.
Poor infrastructure blamed for flooding
Many local residents voiced anger saying they had not been warned sufficiently about the impending storm but the civil protection agency rejected the criticism, saying the area had been placed on red alert.
Civil protection agency chief Franco Gabrielli said the island was "unprepared" for the flooding, caused by 440mm of rain in 24 hours - almost half the amount that usually falls on average in Italy over an entire year.
"I have found a lot of willingness, a bit less organisation," Gabrielli said after flying into Olbia, where he was overseeing rescue operations.
Experts blamed unregulated construction and poor maintenance of waterways for the flooding and said the problem was all over Italy, not just Sardinia.
The heavy rain and high winds meanwhile shifted to the regions of Calabria and Campania in southern Italy and officials said they were monitoring the level of the River Tiber in Rome.
The holiday village of Sellia Marina in Calabria had to be evacuated, ferry services from Naples to the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida were disrupted and St Mark's Square in Venice was under water.