Three dead and thousands evacuated as floods hit northern Italy

Rescuers take people to safety during rescue operations, in Forli, Italy after floods hit Italy's northern Emilia-Romagna region, in this handout image released on 17 May, 2023.Reuters

At least three people died and thousands were evacuated from their homes as devastating floods hit Italy's northern Emilia-Romagna region, authorities said on Wednesday, warning that worse may be yet to come.

"The rainfall is not over, it will continue for several hours," the deputy head of the Civil Protection Agency, Titti Postiglione, told the SkyTG24 news channel. "We are facing a very, very complicated situation."

Emilia-Romagna officials said three dead bodies had been found in the towns of Forli, Cesena and Cesenatico, while three people were missing.

Fourteen rivers broke their banks in the region, forcing people in cities such as Cesena to climb onto the roof of their buildings, where firefighters rescued them with helicopters or rubber dinghies.

"Do not go near the rivers. Those who live in areas close to watercourses should move to higher floors," regional chief Stefano Bonaccini said on Facebook.

A number of roads and rail links were blocked and the mayors of numerous towns and cities, including Bologna, urged residents not to leave their homes.

The northern city of Ravenna, close to the Adriatic coast, was also badly affected.

"It's probably been the worst night in the history of Romagna," Ravenna Mayor Michele de Pascale told RAI public radio, saying that 5,000 people had been evacuated from his city alone overnight.

"Ravenna is unrecognisable for the damage it has suffered."

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her "total closeness to the affected population" and, writing on Twitter, said the government stood ready to provide help.

It was the second time this month that Emilia-Romagna has been battered by bad weather, with at least two people dying during storms at the beginning of May.

The torrential rains followed months of drought which dried out the land, reducing its capacity to absorb water and worsening the impact of the floods, meteorologists said.