Storms, floods in Sicily kill at least 12 people; 2 missing


Storms lashing Sicily have killed at least 12 people with torrential floods, Italian authorities said as the country’s leader headed Sunday to the stricken Mediterranean island. Divers pulled out nine of those victims from a home flooded by a rapidly swelling river in the countryside near Palermo.
State TV broadcaster RaiNews24 said the sole survivor of the flood that ravaged the home with water and mud was the owner, who had just stepped outside to walk the family dogs Saturday when the torrent hit.
News reports said the man at first clung to a tree, then ended up on the roof of a nearby house. He used his cellphone to call for help but it was too late for the others, who included a one-year-old baby, a three-year-old child and a teenager. The victims were from two families who had gathered in the country villa for the weekend.
A man’s body was also found on a guardrail along a Palermo-area road after floodwaters swept away his car, Italian news reports said.
Across the island, in the town of Cammarata, near Agrigento, the fire department said its divers were working to recover the bodies of two people swept away while driving on a road near the flooding Saraceno River.
Also in Agrigento province, firefighters rescued 14 people from a hotel in the town of Montevago, which was threatened by floodwaters from the Belice River.
Agrigento, famed for the ruins of ancient Greek temples, is a popular tourist destination.
Elsewhere in Sicily, at least two other people were missing Sunday after floodwaters swept away their cars, including a doctor heading to the hospital in the hill town of Corleone.
Other storms had battered northern Italy earlier in the week, killing at least 15 people, uprooting millions of trees near Alpine valleys and leaving several Italian villages without electricity or road access for days.
In Casteldaccia, the hamlet where the river flooded the home in Sicily, neighbor Maria Concetta Alfano said she, her husband and their adult disabled daughter fled after barking dogs drew their attention to the rising waters in the Milicia River, the Italian news agency ANSA said. It quoted the husband, Andrea Cardenale, as saying he drove away as “water was up to the hood of the car.”
Rescuers retrieved the bodies from the home. A Sicilian prosecutor opened an investigation to determine if any human error, such as possible inadequate drainage of the river, might have played a role in the deaths.
The official death toll has yet to be updated, but at least 20 people had been confirmed dead in other affected areas in Italy’s north and west. Many of the victims were killed by falling trees, and authorities said gale-force winds have destroyed around 14 million trees across the country, but mainly in the far north. “We'll need at least a century to return to normality,” said the Coldiretti, the association of Italian agricultural companies .
Areas from the far northwest to Sicily in the southwest have been devastated by the storms, but the worst damage occured in Trentino and Veneto – the region around Venice, which has been partly submerged by the highest flood that the canal city has seen in a decade.
Governor of Veneto Luca Zaia said the region has been “brought to its knees” after storm damage costing at least a billion euro ($1.1 billion). In addition, 160,000 people have been left without electricity while the mountainous region in Veneto has been decimated.
It's like after an earthquake,” Zaia said. “Thousands of hectares of forest were razed to the ground, as if by a giant electric saw.” Italy’s civil protection agency described the extreme weather the country has been enduring as “one of the most complex meteorological situations of the past 50 to 60 years.”