Italian media reported again on Monday morning that eight people had been killed in a landslide on Saturday on the island of Ischia, despite earlier statements from Italy’s interior minister insisting the number had not been confirmed.
Seven deaths were confirmed by local authorities late on Sunday night.
“The toll of victims from the landslide in Casamicciola has risen to seven dead, while five are missing,” Naples city prefect Claudio Palomba announced.
A wave of mud and debris hit the small town of Casamicciola Terme early Saturday morning, engulfing at least one house and sweeping cars down to the sea, local media and emergency services said.
The government released an initial €2 million in relief funds at the end of a cabinet meeting which declared the state of emergency, said Minister for Civil Protection Nello Musumeci.
More than 200 rescuers are still searching for a dozen missing people, while hundreds of volunteers, and others, up to their knees in mud, are busy cleaning the streets of the town.
Wreckage of cars and buses crushed by the mudslide could be seen and boulders were scattered around as excavators sought to free up access to homes, cars and shops.
The rescue effort was hampered by rain and high winds, which also delayed ferries bringing reinforcements from the mainland.
“It’s a situation that hurts us, if only for the people who disappeared under the mountain. Here it’s an island and even if we don’t really know everyone, it’s almost that,” Salvatore Lorini, 45, told AFP.
“The mountain came down, there was devastation of shops, cars, hotels and that was already happening nine years ago. Now I am cleaning my mother-in-law’s shop,” he said.
The landslide was caused by a lack of maintenance and prevention “because nature is nature, there was an earthquake, but a bit of prevention” could have saved lives, said Lorini.
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi had earlier warned there were people trapped in the mud, saying it was a “very serious” situation. However, he denied a statement by his colleague Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister and infrastructure minister, that eight people had died, saying this had not been confirmed.
Officials had said they expected to evacuate and find temporary homes for between 150 and 200 people.
Local authorities called on residents of Ischia to stay inside to avoid hindering the rescue operation.
The peninsula, off Naples, is no stranger to states of emergency following earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or severe weather.
Casamicciola Terme, a spa resort of 8,000 inhabitants in winter on the lush island of Ischia, near Capri, was hit by an earthquake in 2017 that killed two people.
It was completely destroyed by a much more powerful earthquake at the end of the 19th century.