Northeastern Italy floods update May 2023

Heavy rainfall in northern Italy and central Europe has resulted in the overflowing of numerous rivers, leading to the loss of 13 lives in Italy and numerous people being compelled to evacuate in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The impact of this rainfall has also extended to regions in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia. Reports indicate that landslides and the devastation of roadways caused by the severe weather have hampered emergency response efforts. 

The Italian Red Cross is at the forefront of the rescue efforts, working tirelessly to save lives by conducting search and rescue operations, providing medical treatment to the injured, and coordinating donation drives to support the affected communities in the aftermath of this calamity.

In the face of rising water levels inside residential areas, residents were evacuated from their rooftops with the help of rescue helicopters. One notable rescue operation involved a coast guardsman carefully lowering a woman through a skylight into a waiting aircraft, where he held her securely as they were lifted to safety.

Gian Luca Zattini, the mayor of Forlì, a municipality severely affected by the floods, emphasized during an interview on Sky TG24 TV that even upper floors can no longer be considered safe.

During a briefing, Minister of Civil Protection Nello Musumeci emphasized the need for a comprehensive national hydraulic engineering strategy to address the escalating incidents of floods and landslides. He highlighted that the region experienced an average of 7.8 inches (200 millimeters) of rainfall within 36 hours, with specific areas recording as high as 19.7 inches (500 mm). This results in rivers overflowing and inundating entire neighborhoods and agricultural fields.

The Formula One Grand Prix scheduled to take place in Imola on Sunday, adjacent to many of the worst-hit towns, was canceled to ease the burden on emergency services and keep motor racing spectators away from the flooded area. Addressing the media, Stefano Bonaccini, the president of Emilia-Romagna, expressed, “We are confronted with unprecedented catastrophic events.” The area has been subjected to an overwhelming deluge of rainfall that exceeds its capacity to withstand.

The city of Ravenna on Italy’s Adriatic coast, known for its early Christian historical sites, was severely damaged. A spokesman from the local interior ministry estimated that 14,000 people would need to be rescued.

About 120 landslides were reported, and the authorities stated 37 towns were impacted by floods. One bridge was destroyed in Bologna, while floods damaged roads and caused the cancellation of numerous rail lines.

Bonaccini said nine dead bodies had been found and returned from around the area. Vice President Irene Priolo informed the media that the river levels were still increasing even though the rains had stopped.

During the scheduled cabinet meeting on May 23, Minister of Civil Protection Musumeci declared his intention to pursue a request for 20 million euros ($22 million) to be allocated to the region affected by the disaster.

In response to the flooding, government authorities announced that tax and mortgage payments would be temporarily suspended for the regions affected by the disaster until the situation is resolved.

When considering the fact that this region typically receives an annual average of 39 inches (1,000 millimeters) of rainfall, one can better comprehend the magnitude of the recent precipitation, as Musumeci highlighted. He referred to the landslides in Ischia last November, which resulted in the loss of twelve lives, as an indication that Italy is witnessing a growing occurrence of tropical weather patterns similar to those seen in Africa and other parts of the world. These patterns are characterized by prolonged periods of drought followed by intense rainfall that exceeds the land’s capacity to absorb.

Musumeci stated, “The events of these hours serve as evidence that nothing will remain unchanged. Nothing will ever be the same again.” When the soil experiences prolonged periods of dryness instead of enhancing its ability to absorb water, it eventually solidifies, causing rainwater to flow over the surface and leading to unimaginable destruction. 

In some regions of Emilia-Romagna, hillside degradation occurred due to the rain. According to state television, 250 mudslides were recorded by residents across 48 different towns and hamlets. In their route, walls of mud that were flowing down caused trees to tumble and roadways to crumble.

According to Musumeci, over 100,000 individuals could not use their mobile phones or landlines, and 50,000 lost access to electricity.

Numerous landslides were documented in eastern Slovenia, threatening residential structures and vital infrastructure.

In Croatia, teams of hundreds of soldiers and rescuers persistently delivered essential supplies, including food and other necessities, to individuals residing in flood-affected regions who had been cut off from assistance in their homes. No fatalities have been reported thus far.