Exceptionally heavy rain and flooding hit northern Italy last week, submerging roads and homes and damaging infrastructure in the region of Emilia-Romagna. The extreme weather stretched as far as nearby Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
The floods prompted a national emergency response in Italy. Regional authorities said Saturday that over 36,000 people in Emilia-Romagna have been forced to leave their homes and find temporary shelter.
The extreme weather also caused widespread loss of crops and livestock, prompting warnings from industry groups. Emilia-Romagna is known for its agricultural production and is home to some of Italy’s most famous food exports, including Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham.
Emilia-Romagna was already hit by heavy rains and floods earlier this month, when at least two people were killed.
Speaking Sunday from St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said: “I renew my heartfelt closeness to the people of Emilia-Romagna, who have been struck by floods in recent days,” according to the ANSA news agency.
The latest heavy rainfall is particularly devastating because it came as Italy and other countries of southern Europe were experiencing dry conditions and drought. Very dry soil is less able to absorb rainfall, and heavy rain falling on parched ground aided in rapid runoff to rivers and other flooded locations nearby.
Experts say rising temperatures linked to climate change are probably making heavy rainfall and some other extreme weather events more frequent and intense.
In Emilia-Romagna, floodwater damage to infrastructure could cost over $670 million (620 million euros) to repair, according to a preliminary assessment Saturday from the region, which said costs could go up as more information comes in. In the regional capital of Bologna alone, authorities said the weather caused $119 million (110 million euros) worth of damage to the road network.
The Italian federation of farmers, Coldiretti, said more than 880 million pounds of wheat has been lost this year because of extreme weather in the region and warned that stagnant floodwater could compromise fruit harvests for four to five years.
“The slow outflow of the water left in the orchards ‘suffocates’ the roots of the trees until they rot and the risk of ruining entire plantations that will take years before becoming productive again,” Coldiretti said, according to CNN.
The group said over 5,000 farms were affected, with reports of animals drowning in floodwater in Emilia-Romagna. The region is one of the wealthiest in Italy and is known for its manufacturing and agri-food industries. Now, more than 50,000 jobs are in jeopardy, Coldiretti said.
The destruction of durum wheat crops — which are used to make pasta — comes as Italy’s government announced initiatives to tackle the country’s cost-of-living crisis, including by investigating increases in the price of pasta and other staples.
With thousands of homes flooded or inaccessible, Italian authorities set up emergency shelters in hotels, schools and gymnasiums. Evacuations were ongoing Saturday, and some 3,000 people were ordered to evacuate from the town of Lavezzola, in the province of Ravenna, according to the Department for Civil Protection.
Most of the Emilia-Romagna region was still under a red weather alert — indicating a potentially dangerous situation — or an orange alert for Sunday. Separately, Italy’s meteorological service warned that a storm located between Calabria and Sicily would bring intense rain over Tuscany and Lazio, in the center of the country.
Ian Livingston contributed to this report.