ROME | Torrential rains followed by flash floods in southeastern France and northwestern Italy claimed the lives of at least two Italians, including a firefighter, while authorities in both countries reported on Saturday evening to ‘about thirty missing.
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Damage is severe on both sides of the border: many villages have been devastated by water and landslides, roads and bridges have been damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of firefighters remain mobilized to provide assistance and search for the missing, in particular on both sides of the Col de Tende which links the Ligurian Alps to the French department of Alpes Maritimes.
In Italy, a 53-year-old volunteer firefighter died during an intervention in Valle d’Aosta and a man drowned when his car fell into the Sesia River. The Piedmont region referred to an “extremely critical” situation.
In addition, 22 people (18 Italians and four Germans) are missing at the Col de Tende, said the Italian Civil Protection. The Germans are a family “made up of four people, two grandparents and two grandchildren,” according to a spokesperson.
According to the president of the Piedmont region, these bad weather have been the most serious since 1994, when the Po and Tarano floods killed 70 people.
In France, in the Alpes-Maritimes, the emergency services reported eight missing some, including two firefighters and two elderly people swept away by the collapse of their house in a river. We also had no news from many other people.
It was not possible to know Saturday evening if some missing were counted both by the French relief and the Italian relief, which coordinated to conduct the search.
In the Italian Piedmont, “the situation is dramatic”, judged the commander of the local fire brigade, Vincenzo Bennardo, quoted by the agency Ansa.
From Ventimiglia to Biella, the heavy rains that fell from Friday afternoon on this hilly region caused flooding, landslides, landslides and caused significant material damage.
The Roya Valley, straddling France and Italy, was cut off from the world for many hours and localities remained so on Saturday evening, due to gutted roads or the absence of electricity and telephone network.
It is in this area that the most affected municipalities on the French side are located, in the hinterland of Nice, as well as in the valleys of Vésubie and Tinée, enclosed in mountainous areas of the Alps.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who came on site, expressed his “deep concern about the final balance sheet”. According to him, the balance sheet is “at this stage” of “at least eight (missing persons) some, and very many people of whom we have no news”.
The French army and hundreds of rescuers are deployed to search for the missing, to bring medical means by helicopter to the isolated inhabitants and to evacuate some of them.
“Many roads are cut, sections of road have collapsed (…) We also see a few houses which are perched above the void because the bed of the river has washed away the road”, according to a spokesperson French firefighters.
In the village of Roquebillière, “we saw the Vésubie which had overflowed from its bed (…) Everything was washed away, part of the old iron bridge was also washed away, the campsite …”, said Serge Franco, a sixty-year-old. “We are all stunned”.
Two elderly people were washed away as their house in the village collapsed. “The firefighters did not have enough long rope, and even with our own ropes, we could not get to the house, so to get them out it was too late, then the house was suddenly swept away” , said a witness of the scene, Patrick Theus.
“The situation is catastrophic in certain municipalities”, declared the French deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes, Eric Ciotti.
Up to 500mm of rain
In Ventimiglia (Italy), where the Roya left its bed, the mayor Gaetano Scullino estimated “that a disaster of this kind has not happened since 1958, when the river collapsed a footbridge spanning it” .
The floods devastated the western part of the city. “We have lost all the machines and orders for pasta, from Italy and France. When I entered, the cold rooms were floating, ”said Ramon Bruno, owner of a pasta factory, to the Ansa agency.
“The violence of the water was such that it raised the floor”, testified the owner of the restaurant “Da Giò”, Giorgio Muratore.
In Liguria, the rains and the wind also hit the olive growing sector. Farmers report significant damage to olive groves as harvests approach.
Rainfall accumulations throughout this episode “generally reached 200 to 350 mm and up to 500 mm occasionally”, unprecedented, according to Météo France.
In Venice (Italy), where the inhabitants were preparing for a rise in water levels, a new system of mobile dikes used for the first time made it possible to contain the flood.
The storm also affected Switzerland, which reported no casualties but extensive damage: cut roads, floods and landslides. In several weather stations, precipitation records over 100 years old have been broken.