Italy floods: Death toll rises, controversy rages on

The human toll from floods in Emilia-Romagna, a rich agricultural and tourism region in northern Italy, worsened on Friday, killing 14 people against a backdrop of controversy over the inaction of public authorities.

Rescuers were still working to evacuate people isolated in their flooded homes, and after more than 24 hours of calm, it started raining again.

In Ravenna, authorities ordered the “immediate and urgent evacuation” of several neighborhoods and streets on Friday morning and appealed to the population to “move only if absolutely necessary”.

A total of 15,000 residents had to leave their homes to escape the floods, about half of whom were accommodated in reception centers run by the Red Cross or civil defence.

Residents clean up mud in a yard after floods in Faenza, in northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, May 19, 2023 (AFP – Andreas Solaro)

A spokesman for the region told AFP that 13 people had died, raising the death toll to 14 on Friday.

In the town at the center of the floods, AFP reporters on Friday met exhausted residents trying to clear piles of mud, leaving their homes with furniture and household appliances covered in dirt.

“I lost everything,” said Fred Osajuwa, 58, a local resident, with his feet in the mud.

However, the situation seemed to be stabilizing elsewhere as the water slowly receded. Residents and road workers were hard at work clearing mud and debris from homes, businesses and streets, and roads that had been inundated or washed away were reopened to traffic.

Material damage amounts to billions of euros. A new disaster for a region devastated by the earthquake in 2012 and then the first flood two weeks ago.

“This is a new earthquake,” regional president Stefano Bonacini said on television Friday morning.

The “Garden of Italy”, Emilia-Romagna owes part of its prosperity to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, but also to its tourism and the automotive industry built around Ferrari.

“We will rebuild everything. But the agri-food and market horticulture sector needs to be compensated 100%. We had drought, frost and now these dramatic floods”, recalled Stefano Bonacini. “When it comes to tourism, luckily the coast [adriatique, à l’est] is less affected,” he said.

– Energetic Transition –

For Italian Nobel Prize in Physics Giorgio Parisi, these floods are due to “climate change, rising temperatures” and “we have to get used to it”.

Flooding in Emilia-Romagna (AFP -)
Flooding in Emilia-Romagna (AFP -)

“We need a real energy change,” he said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

According to Stefano Bonacini, the post-pandemic recovery plan from which Italy benefits, the 190 billion European funds committed to the peninsula, “is a good opportunity” to accelerate this transition.

The government will put a “suspension of tax and contribution deadlines” on the agenda of the Council of Ministers on Tuesday for companies damaged by bad weather in Emilia-Romagna.

Stefano Bonacini did not want to comment on the emerging controversy over the inaction of public authorities to prevent floods in Italy, claiming he preferred to focus on the emergency.

But elected officials and experts in the press and on social networks are already looking for responsibilities among leaders past and present.

Because in 2014 the head of government, Matteo Renzi, created an organization called Italia Secura (Secure Italy), responsible for fighting floods and landslides. More than eight billion euros were to be allocated for the construction of dikes, canals and embankments.

But in 2018, Giuseppe Conte, his successor as head of a disparate executive bringing together the 5 Star movement and the anti-immigration league of current deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, scrapped the project and the planned billions into state coffers. Are made. ,

A resident cleans the basement of his house after flooding in Faenza, in the Emilia-Romagna region, northern Italy May 19, 2023 (AFP - Andreas Solaro)
A resident cleans the basement of his house after flooding in Faenza, in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, May 19, 2023 (AFP – Andreas Solaro)

Matteo Renzi condemned the 5 Star movement’s “biggest mistake” on Twitter, while centre-left daily La Repubblica headlined “a disaster of money never spent”.

Of the 6.8 million Italians exposed to floods, 1.3 million to landslides, according to the environmental association Legambiente.

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