OLBIA (Italy) (AFP) – Italian emergency workers searched house by house on the island of Sardinia on Tuesday after a Mediterranean cyclone triggered flash floods, leaving 17 people dead and forcing hundreds 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, told AFP.
“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.
Rescue dogs were also being used and the army and the navy were taking part in the operations, officials said.
A government meeting on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for the island and allocated $27 million 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 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.
“We are focusing on essential operations: saving human lives, assisting displaced people and clearing road access,” Prime Minister Enrico Letta said at a press conference after an emergency cabinet meeting.
‘An absolutely extraordinary event’
“This was an absolutely extraordinary event,” Letta said, with one expert telling AFP that a storm of such intensity and with such high rainfall had not been seen on the picturesque holiday island “for centuries”.
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 put up displaced people.