Italy floods: At least 13 dead in Emilia-Romagna as rescuers struggle to reach isolated towns

Rescue crews are battling to reach towns and villages in northern Italy still cut off by heavy rains as the death toll from this week’s floods rose to 13.

Local mayors in Emilia-Romagna warned that some remote villages were still completely isolated landslides had made roads impassable.

“If it rains any more, the situation will be tragic,” Mercato Seraceno Mayor Monica Rossi warned on Sky TG24, standing on a road with a chunk missing from a landslide.

The death toll rose to 13 after more bodies were discovered in the hard-hit province of Ravenna. They included a couple in their 70s found dead in their flooded apartment in Russi after their son sounded the alarm that he had lost contact with them.

More than 13,000 people fled their homes, some plucked from rooftops or balconies by rescue helicopters and others ferried out on dinghies.

An aerial view shows a flooded pig farm in the town of Lugo (AFP via Getty Images)
An aerial view shows a flooded pig farm in the town of Lugo (AFP via Getty Images)

The extreme weather behind this week’s disaster - a prolonged drought punctuated by 36 hours of intense rainfall, two weeks after another downpour - led to two dozen rivers and tributaries bursting their banks. The force of water sent torrents of mud tearing through entire towns in Emilia-Romagna, flooding storefronts and basements.

But residents in some towns have started cleaning up as the waters recede, with residents shoveling out mud-filled basements and storefronts.

The heavy rains have led Formula One to cancel this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix to not further burden already thinly-stretched emergency crews.

Days of rainstorms stretched across a broad swathe of northern Italy and the Balkans, where “apocalyptic” floods, landslides and evacuations were also reported in Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.

On Wednesday night authorities in the province of Ravenna, a tourist town famed for its Byzantine-era mosaics, ordered thousands to leave their homes as a precaution because of fears that three rivers could overflow their banks.

Among the dead was a farmer who defied floodwaters to try to save equipment on his property, officials said. His wife was among the missing.

Rescue helicopters plucked people from rooftops as floodwaters rose ever higher in homes. In one rescue, a coast guard member pulled a woman out through a skylight from her home and held her tight as the two were winched to a hovering helicopter and pulled inside.

“Even upper floors aren’t safe any more,” Gian Luca Zattini, mayor of Forli’, one of the hardest-hit towns, told Sky TG24 TV.

A flooded street is pictured in Cesena (AFP via Getty Images)
A flooded street is pictured in Cesena (AFP via Getty Images)

In Castel Bolognese, a town of around 9,000 people, the mayor said there was no electricity and many families were running out of food in an area that was hit by floods earlier this month. “Two weeks ago we had a flood and we were left to believe it happens once every 100 years,” Luca Della Godenza said.

In the Balkans, the swollen Una river flooded parts of northern Croatia and northwestern Bosnia, where authorities announced a state of emergency. The mayor of the town of Bosanska Krupa in Bosnia said that hundreds of homes had been flooded.

“We have an apocalypse,” Amin Halitovic told regional N1 network. “We can no longer count the flooded buildings. It’s never been like this.”

Dozens of landslides were reported in eastern Slovenia, many of which endangered homes and infrastructure.

In Croatia, hundreds of soldiers and rescue teams continued bringing food and other necessities to people in flood-hit areas who have been isolated in their homes. No casualties have been reported so far.