18 dead as cyclone forces thousands to evacuate on Sardinia

State of emergency declared as Mediterranean cyclone forces thousands to evacuate homes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 3:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 3:49am


Italian emergency workers searched house by house on the island of Sardinia yesterday 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 part of the island, said. "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 was being sent 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.

A government meeting yesterday declared a state of emergency for the island and allocated €20 million (HK$209 million) for emergency assistance, while the regional government provided €5 million.

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.

"This was an absolutely extraordinary event," Letta said, with one expert saying that a storm of such intensity and with such high rainfall had not been seen on the picturesque holiday island "for centuries".

Civil protection agency chief Franco Gabrielli said that the island was "unprepared" for the intensity of the flooding, caused by 440mm of rain in the past 24 hours alone.

This is almost half the amount that usually falls on average in Italy over an entire year.