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Italy's flood death toll rises to 14 as government urged to act on climate

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The Local/AFP ([email protected])
Italy's flood death toll rises to 14 as government urged to act on climate
The castle and flooded streets in the town of Lugo, near Ravenna, on May 18, 2023, after flooding across Italy's northern Emilia Romagna region. (Photo by Federico SCOPPA / AFP)

The death toll from floods that have devastated the Emilia Romagna region in Italy rose to 14 on Friday, amid calls for the government to revive an abandoned project to mitigate the impact of extreme weather.

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"The death toll has risen to 14," a spokeswoman for the region told AFP. The latest victim to be found was a man recovered from a flooded house in Faenza, a picturesque city usually surrounded by green pastures and vineyards, left largely underwater after the fierce downpour earlier this week.

Authorities in Ravenna ordered the immediate evacuation of two more small towns on Friday and issued an "extremely urgent" call for residents to reduce their movements to a minimum in the region, which was still under the highest-level 'red' weather alert.

Nearly half of the 10,000 people evacuated from their homes spent the night in local refuge centres set up in gyms or hotels, with others receiving hot meals from mobile kitchens deployed in several cities.

Local residents in Faenza shovelled mud out of their homes, piling sodden mattresses, clothes and furniture together in mountains of waste.

Rubbish and damaged belongings in a muddy courtyard in Faenza, after floods hit the Emilia-Romagna region. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / 

In Ravenna, rain was still falling and mayor Massimo Isola described a "disastrous situation" in hamlets up in the hills surrounding the city.

The mayor of nearby Casola Valsenio, Giorgio Sagrini, told SkyTG24: "Landslides have cut us off from the rest of the world." "There are families stuck in their houses," he said.

The town of Lugo was one of several reporting that food and water supplies were "running low".

READ ALSO: Why has flooding in northern Italy been so devastating?

As rescue workers searched for people still cut off by the waters, details emerged of the final moments of some of those who died.

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One, 75-year-old Giovanni Pavani, refused to leave his house on Tuesday, telling his neighbour Marina Giocometti he had put sandbags along the windows and would be fine, according to the Corriere della Sera daily.

He was on the phone to her when waters began rushing in, telling her "I'm cold, so cold. The furniture's floating around the house", she said.

Giocometti told him to stand on the table, and she would call the emergency services, but the line suddenly cut out, she said.

Cars a parked in a flooded street in the town of Lugo on May 18, 2023. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

A video showing the rescue of a three-year-old boy from his mother's arms, as she stood outside her house in water up to her chest, calling for help, went viral on Wednesday.

The downpour, which saw half a year's rainfall in just 36 hours, caused billions of euros worth of damage and prompted questions nationally as to why more is not being done in terms of climate change mitigation.

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There have been increasing calls for Giorgia Meloni's hard-right government to do more to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis in the country, including by reinstating a task force called Italia Sicura (Safe Italy), entrusted with flood and landslide prevention, set up in 2014 but scrapped in 2018.

Volunteers clean mud from a flooded courtyard in Faenza. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The environment ministry published Italy's first National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change last December, but critics say the government's announcements are vague and unfunded.

Meanwhile, the Italian government has repeatedly pushed back against EU-wide policies intended to cut carbon emissions, including by saying it will not implement a ban on the sale of new combustion engine vehicles by 2035.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: Italy records ‘five times’ more extreme weather events in ten years

Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida said earlier in May that the government would not turn Italian industry "into a desert" by imposing CO2-reduction measures of this type.

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He acknowledged however that the long-running drought was caused by climate change and said Italy had to adapt, including by building more basins to capture rainwater, patching up leaky water networks and repairing dams.

Opposition politicians from the centre-left Democratic Party said they were pushing for the introduction of a "climate law".

PD deputy leader Chiara Gribaudo told Italian news outlet Fanpage on Thursday that in Italy problems "are not tackled in time with planning or investing resources" and so the country goes from "emergency to emergency".

She added that Meloni's government included "those who still deny climate change, despite, alas, the tragedies that are underway and that happen regularly."

READ ALSO: Italy must learn to cope with drought-inducing weather: minister

Storms, avalanches, floods and drought have ravaged Italy over the past year, killing dozens of people and destroying homes and livelihoods, as once-exceptional disasters become increasingly common.

"Climate change is here and we are living the consequences. It isn't some remote prospect, it is the new normal," Paola Pino d'Astore, an expert at the Italian Society of Environmental Geology (SIGEA), told Reuters on Thursday.

Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci said Italy must overhaul its flood prevention strategy.

“We can’t just pretend that nothing is happening,” he said in an interview with Sky TG24 on Thursday. “Everything must change: the planning of hydraulic infrastructure must change, the engineering approach must change.”

“We are not a nation inclined to prevention. We like to rebuild more than to prevent,” he said.

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