Monday, 12 January 2009

Italy under Water as Rivers Threaten to Burst Banks

Four dead: 24-hour warning in place. Strikes called off. December 2008

By: Lorenzo salvia

ROME – Snow fell in the north, rain and high winds lashed the south as Italians made more than 3,000 emergency calls to the fire service. Rome wasn’t the only place with weather problems. The head of civil defence, Guido Bertolaso, warned: “This is a critical moment but for the time being there is no alarm. It’s been raining and snowing all over Italy for 50 days with no let-up. After years of neglecting the territory, some of our chickens are coming home to roost”. There is serious concern about central Italian rivers like the Tiber, the Aniene and the Arno, which could break their banks. The situation has also affected today’s strike by the CGIL union federation. Trains will continue to run “so as not to worsen people’s inconvenience”. Public transport will be running normally in Rome and Venice, the two cities worst hit in the past few hours.

High water in Venice may delight tourists but no one else is amused: the level peaked at 118 centimetres. Water is also threatening Florence, where yesterday morning the river Arno flowing past the Uffizi had reached a level of 3.71 metres. Later, the situation improved and the water fell below danger level. A close watch is being kept on rivers all over central Italy and the situation is critical in the province of Arezzo, where many roads are closed to traffic.

Yesterday’s bad weather claimed three victims, in addition to the woman who died near Rome. At Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto in Sicily, an 80-year-old woman died of shock when she realised that her home was about to be flooded by rainwater. Heavy winds on the seafront at Reggio Calabria broke a branch off a tree and blew it onto a parked car. Sitting in the car was Antonio Laganà, 76, who had a heart attack and died. Still in the province of Reggio Calabria at Polistena, 55-year-old Vincenzo Valerioti died when a bridge collapsed while he was assisting a motorist. In Calabria and Campania, several trains stopped at Vallo di Lucania as a precautionary measure because of a landslip that blocked a total of 700 passengers. Cancellations and route variations affected a total of 29 trains travelling from northern Italy to Calabria and Sicily. Further problems plagued trains around Foggia, where the Bari-Turin intercity train was hit by lightning. Rail traffic was halted for an hour but there were no casualties. Infiltrations that discoloured the Frida spring led to suspension of the water supply to 25 municipalities in Basilicata.

In the province of Messina, a bridge over the Elicona torrential river partially collapsed. Heavy seas led to the cancellation of almost all ferry services between Sicily and the outlying islands while ferries between Messina and Reggio Calabria were also cancelled. Whirlwinds swept through the area around Agrigento and in the north of Italy, snow made life difficult. In the province of Salerno, 200 people had to leave their homes when a torrential stream broke its banks. They were put up in local hotels. Schools in Bolzano were closed. At Gallio in the province of Vicenza, a 13-year-old girl was struck by a large block of snow that detached itself from the roof of a hotel. Exceptional snowfalls mean that the hunting season for roe deer and red deer opens today in 15 of the 20 districts of Trentino. After Milan’s Linate airport was closed, Mr Bertolaso asked the SEA management company to “apologise to air travellers”. SEA’s reply was: “Unlike Malpensa, Linate has only one runway. Landings and take-offs have to be suspended while it is being cleared of snow”.

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