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Homes and schools evacuated as wildfires rage in Sicily

A girl was rescued from a burning house while 50 nursery school children were hospitalized due to smoke inhalation as wildfires raged across parts of Sicily on Thursday.

Homes and schools evacuated as wildfires rage in Sicily
The wildfires raged across parts of Sicily on Thursday. Photo: Webcris77/YouReporter.it

The girl was rescued from the home in Poggio Maria, near the coastal town of Cefalù, a popular tourist area where other homes and hotels are reported to have been damaged by the wildfires, fanned by a sirocco, a hot Mediterranean wind that originates from the Sahara and can reach hurricane speeds.

Fifty nursery school children were also hospitalized on Thursday morning, suffering from smoke inhalation, as the fires spread across the Palermo area. Their condition was not serious and they were later discharged.

The nursery, in Monreale, was evacuated, as were other buildings and hotels in the affected areas.

The town's mayor, Piero Capizzi, said the situation is now under control.

“But this morning there were moments of fear,” he added.

Dozens of fires have spread across the island, affecting the provinces of Palermo, Agrigento, Trapani and Messina, according to the latest reports.

The A20 motorway between Palermo and Messina and a highway that runs from Lascari to Cefalù were also closed as the fires spread.

“We’re facing a dramatic situation,” said Lapunzina Rosario, mayor of the coastal town of Cefalù, adding that the flames developed in the Lascari area.

The lower areas of the Madonie mountain range were among the worst affected, with homes and schools being evacuated.

“We are overwhelmed with calls,” a firefighter told La Repubblica.

The roof of a home in Cefalù can be seen on fire in the Tweet below.

Some Canadair water planes were launched but the operation had to be stopped because the winds, bringing temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius, were too strong, Giampiero Boscaino said. 

The video below, of fires in Lascari, was posted on YouReporter.it.

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CLIMATE

Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue

Sicily's residents are bracing for the arrival of a cyclone later on Thursday, the second this week after a deadly storm hammered the Italian island, killing three people.

Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue
Cars and market stalls submerged in Catania, Sicily, after heavy rain hit the city and province on october 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

A rare tropical-style cyclone known as a “medicane” is set to reach Sicily’s eastern coast and the tip of mainland Calabria between Thursday evening and Friday morning, according to Italian public research institute ISPRA.

“Heavy rainfall and strong sea storms are expected on the coast, with waves of significant height over 4.5 metres (15 feet),” ISPRA said.

The Italian Department for Civil Protection placed eastern Sicily under a new amber alert for Thursday and the highest-level red lert for Friday in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, after almost a week of extreme weather in the area.

A total of three people have been reported killed in flooding on the island this week amid storms that left city streets and squares submerged.

On Tuesday, parts of eastern Sicily were ravaged by a cyclone following days of heavy rains that had sparked flooding and mudslides, killing three people.

Television images from Tuesday showed flooding in the emergency room of Catania’s Garibaldi-Nesima hospital, while rain was seen pouring from the roof inside offices at the city courtroom.

Thursday’s storm was set to hit the same area around Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city, even as residents were still mucking out their streets and homes.

Schools were closed in Syracuse and Catania, where the local government ordered public offices and courts closed through Friday.

The mayor of Catania on Tuesday shut down all businesses and urged residents to stay home.

Antonio Navarra, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper this week that Sicily was at the centre of extreme weather events, including heatwaves and cyclones.

“We’re trying to understand if, with climate change, these phenomena will become even more intense, if they will change their character as their frequency intensifies,” he said.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves

Cars submerged in Catania, Sicily, after storms hit the city and province on October 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

Other forecasters have said the “medicane” is the latest evidence that the climate crisis is irreversibly tropicalising the Mediterranean, after the island’s south-eastern city of Syracuse this August recorded a temperature of 48.8C, the hottest ever seen in Europe.

“Sicily is tropicalising and the upcoming medicane is perhaps the first of this entity, but it certainly won’t be the last,” Christian Mulder, a professor of ecology and climate emergency at the University of Catania, told The Guardian on Wednesday.

“We are used to thinking that this type of hurricane and cyclone begins in the oceans and not in a closed basin like the Mediterranean. But this is not the case,” he said.

“This medicane is forming due to the torrid climate of north Africa and the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Aegean Sea has a temperature of 3C higher than the average, while the Ionian Sea has a temperature of almost 2C higher than the average. The result is a pressure cooker.”

The storm is expected to leave the area between Saturday and Sunday.

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