Unusually heavy rain and floods swept across northern Italy last week, submerging roads and houses and damaging infrastructure in the Emilia-Romagna region. Extreme weather spread as far as near Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
The floods prompted a national emergency response in Italy. Regional authorities said on Saturday that during 36,000 people in Emilia-Romagna they have been forced to leave their homes and seek temporary refuge.
The extreme weather also caused widespread loss of crops and livestock, prompting warnings from industry groups. Emilia-Romagna is known for its agricultural production and is home to some of Italy’s most famous food exports, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham.
Emilia-Romagna has already been hit by heavy rain and flooding earlier this month, when at least two people were killed.
Speaking on Sunday from Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said: “I renew my most sincere closeness to the people of Emilia-Romagna, who have been hit by floods in recent days,” according to the ANSA news agency.
The most recent heavy rains are particularly devastating because they occurred when Italy and other southern European countries were experiencing dry conditions and drought. Very dry soil is less able to absorb rain, and Heavy rains that fell on the parched ground contributed to rapid runoff into rivers and other nearby flooded places.
Experts say rising temperatures linked to climate change are likely causing heavy rains and some other more frequent and intense extreme weather events.
In Emilia-Romagna, repairing infrastructure damage caused by flooding could cost more than 670 million dollars (620 million euros), according to a A preliminary review on Saturday from the region, which said costs could rise as more information comes in. In the regional capital of Bologna alone, authorities said the weather caused $119 million (110 million euros) worth of damage to the road network.
The Italian Federation of Farmers, coldirettiHe said more than 880 million pounds of wheat have been lost this year due to extreme weather in the region and warned that stagnant flooding could jeopardize fruit crops for four to five years.
“The slow outflow of the water that remains in the orchards ‘suffocates’ the roots of the trees until they rot and runs the risk of ruining entire plantations that will take years to become productive again,” said Coldiretti. according to CNN.
The group said more than 5,000 farms were affected, with reports of animals drowned in flood water in Emilia-Romagna. The region is one of the wealthiest in Italy and is known for its manufacturing and agri-food industries. Now, more than 50,000 jobs are at risk, Coldiretti said.
The destruction of durum wheat crops, which are used to make pasta, comes as Italy’s government announced initiatives to address the country’s cost-of-living crisis, including investigating increases in the price of pasta and other staples.
With thousands of houses flooded or inaccessible, Italian authorities set up emergency shelters in hotels, schools and gyms. Evacuations continued on Saturday with some 3,000 people ordered to evacuate from the city of Lavezzola, in the province of Ravenna. according to the Department of Civil Protection.
Most of the Emilia-Romagna region was still under a red weather alert — indicating a potentially dangerous situation — or an orange alert for Sunday. Separately, Italian Meteorological Service warned that a storm located between Calabria and Sicily would bring heavy rains over Tuscany and Lazio, in the center of the country.
Ian Livingston contributed to this report.