Thursday, February 2, 2023

Ischia mudslides: Rescuers search for up to a dozen missing after Italian island disaster

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Up to a dozen people are still being sought on Sunday on the Italian island of Ischia following mudslides that have left at least one person dead.

A wave of mud and debris caused by heavy rains devastated the small town of Casamicciola Terme in the north of the island off Naples on Saturday morning.

The body of a woman was found by rescue workers, announced Claudio Palomba, prefect of Naples. She was identified as being 31 years old, according to the AGI agency. The Italian press also reported that 13 people were injured.

Some of the people initially reported missing were finally found safe, including a family with a newborn baby, the prefect said. But there was still no news of a dozen people by mid-afternoon, Palomba said.

“We fear that there are other victims,” fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari told AFP.

Search operations have been complicated by persistent rain and strong winds, which have also delayed the arrival of reinforcements by ferry from the mainland.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi had earlier said several people were trapped in the mud, describing the situation as “very serious”. 

The government’s response to the disaster has already proved controversial. Piantedosi denied claims by the Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini, who had given a death toll of eight, whereas the authorities insisted at that stage that no deaths had been confirmed.

The landslide sent torrents of mud down the streets, knocking down trees and carrying away and denting vehicles, sometimes into the sea. It also “buried a house” and two people were rescued from a car that had been driven into the sea, the fire service said.

At least 30 families are trapped in their homes by the mud, without water or electricity, the ANSA news agency said, adding that the road to their neighbourhoods was cut off by the mudslide and debris.

Rescue services had planned to evacuate 150 to 200 people by Saturday night to temporary accommodation, and local authorities called on islanders to stay in their homes so as not to hamper rescue operations.

“Rescue operations remain complicated because of the weather conditions,” the civil protection department said, but the search continued into the night using searchlights.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who tweeted that she was keeping abreast of the search operations, is due to discuss the crisis with her cabinet in an extraordinary meeting on Sunday.

Casamicciola Terme, a winter resort of 8,000 people on the lush island of Ischia near Capri, suffered an earthquake in 2017 that killed two people. It had, however, been completely destroyed by a much more powerful earthquake in the late 19th century.

Saturday’s disaster comes just weeks after 11 people died in floods caused by heavy rains in east-central Italy.



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