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CLIMATE CRISIS

Italy’s heatwave peaks with 16 cities on red alert as Tuscany burns

Italy faced the hottest day of the current heatwave on Friday with extreme heat warnings issued for 16 cities, as firefighters battled blazes up and down the country.

Firefighters try to put down a fire near the city of Massarosa, central Italy, on July 20, 2022.
Firefighters battle a wildfire in the province of Lucca, Tuscany, on July 20th, 2022. Photo by Federico SCOPPA / AFP.

Worst hit is expected to be Milan in the north with temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), while Bologna to its south and the capital Rome could hit 39 degrees, according to official government estimates.

Other major cities under a cautionary heatwave red alert for Friday and Saturday by Italy’s health ministry include Florence, Genoa, Turin and Verona.

On Thursday, the city of Pavia, just south of Milan, broke a record with thermometers hitting 39.6 degrees.

READ ALSO: MAP: The hottest parts of Italy to avoid this week

For three consecutive months – May, June and July – national temperatures have been at least two to three degrees above the seasonal average, and the trend should continue until early August, said national weather website ilmeteo.com.

Along with the heat have come hundreds of fires across Italy in recent weeks. The largest still raging Friday was in central Tuscany, where 860 hectares had burned since Monday in an area west of Lucca.

Over 1,000 people were evacuated on Thursday. On Friday, 87 firefighters were on the ground after another night spent battling the flames, helped by reinforcements from the Lombardy and Piedmont regions.

Water dumps from helicopters were underway, authorities said.

Prosecutors in Lucca have opened an investigation over the cause of the fire.

Volunteer killed

More contained was a forest fire that broke out Tuesday near Trieste, in Italy’s northeasternmost region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, sending flames and vast plumes of smoke across the border into Slovenia and displacing about 300 people.

The fire – which caused a 15-minute general blackout Tuesday in the city of Trieste – was now “substantially stable,” Deputy Governor Riccardo Riccardi said on Thursday, adding that a cold front was expected on Tuesday.

Authorities had not yet calculated how many hectares had burned.

READ ALSO: MAP: Where are wildfires raging in Italy?

Firefighters said a female civil defense volunteer died while trying to fight the fire. Local media said she was killed by a falling tree.

Italy’s national firefighting corps say they have intervened in 32,921 wildfires from June 15 to July 21, or 4,040 more than in the same period last year.

Most have been in the southern regions of Sicily, Puglia, Calabria and Lazio, around Rome.

According to the specialised European monitoring service Copernicus, fires have ravaged 27,571 hectares so far this year in Italy.

That damage, however, is still well short of that in Spain, where 199,651 hectares have burned, or 149,324 hectares in Romania. In Portugal, 48,106 hectares have burned, with another 39,904 hectares in France.

Italy is “about to reach the maximum power of the African high pressure zone ‘Apocalypse 4800′”, said ilmeteo.it.

The name, it said, referred to the thermometer dropping below zero degrees only at altitudes above 4,800 meters (15,748 feet) – corresponding to the highest peak of the Alps, at Mont Blanc along the French-Italian border.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

MAP: The parts of Italy most at risk from floods and extreme weather

After flooding devastated parts of central Italy on Friday, data has revealed the areas most at risk as such 'extreme weather events' become more frequent.

MAP: The parts of Italy most at risk from floods and extreme weather

After severe storms and flash floods in the central Marche region last week left 11 dead, with two still missing, environmental organisation Legambiente said climate interventions “can no longer be put off”.

“The climate crisis is no joke,” the group said in a press release published on Saturday. “The flooding that hit Le Marche is yet another alarm bell that the planet is sending us.”

IN PHOTOS: Devastation after deadly flash floods hit central Italy

Italy was hit by a total 64 floods between January and September 2022, according to the latest data from Legambiente’s Città Clima (‘Climate City’) Observatory, with some areas worse affected than others.

As the majority of Italy’s floods occur in the autumn and winter, it’s feared that the total figure for 2022 will be higher than for 2021.

Disasters like the one that hit Marche are difficult to predict, but data from the most recent Città Clima Observatory’s report, published in November of last year, shows which parts of the peninsula have suffered the greatest number of extreme weather events since 2010, giving an idea of the areas most at risk.

Data showed these were mainly large cities such as Rome, Bari, Milan, Genoa and Palermo, and coastal areas, particularly the coasts of Romagna, northern Marche, and eastern Sicily.

The parts of Italy that have experienced the most extreme weather events since 2010. Source: Città Clima

Sicily has been the worst-hit region in recent months, battered by eight floods so far this year and 14 in 2021, the Città Clima interactive map shows. Palermo, Catania and Syracuse have each experienced multiple floods in the past couple of years.

Lazio has also been hard hit, experiencing six flooding events so far in 2022 and ten in 2021, the majority of which occurred in Rome.

READ ALSO

Capital city Rome experienced by far the highest number of extreme weather events: 56 in total, of which 13 involved such heavy rainfall it caused damage to infrastructure and 21 necessitated a partial closure of metro lines.

Bari, the capital of Puglia, was the next worst hit, with a total of 41 events, 20 of which were floods and 18 of which took the form of tornados or whirlwinds that caused damage to the city.

Milan experienced 30 events, of which 20 were a result of river flooding.

The metropolitan area of Naples experienced 31 events, 18 of which occurred in Naples itself, while Genoa was hit by 21 events variously consisting of flooding, torrential rainfall and whirlwinds, and Palermo experienced 15.

A total of 132 extreme weather events were recorded in Italy between January and July 2022 – more than the annual average for the last decade, Legambiente reported in its press release.

A flooded field in Sassoferrato, Ancona province, after severe storms on Friday. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

There have been a total of 510 floods in Italy from 2010 to September 2022, 88 of which happened in 2021, according to the organisation’s statistics.

The association urged the government to take urgent action, arguing that Italy is currently the only major European country that lacks climate adaptation plan, which it says has been on hold since 2018.

“There is no more time to waste,” said Legambiente president Stefano Ciafani.

“If the plan is not approved in a very short timeframe, we risk seeing disastrous social, environmental and economic impacts over the next few years.”

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