‘I lost everything’: Dazed residents clean up after northern Italy floods

As waters recede after devastating floods in Italy's Emilia Romagna region, residents said they were lucky to be alive as they began a long journey back to normality, shovelling mud out of their homes and throwing away soaked furniture.

Volunteers clean mud from a flooded courtyard in Emilia Romagna
Volunteers shovel mud out of a flooded courtyard in Faenza, Emilia Romagna. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

“I lost everything except for these pyjamas,” said Fred Osazuwa, bewildered and covered in mud, as he surveyed the mess left of his home after Italy’s deadly floods.

“But me and my family, we are alive. I thank god…we are OK,” the 58-year-old told AFP in Faenza, one of the hardest-hit areas after heavy rains caused devastation across the northeastern Emilia Romagna region.

READ ALSO: Italy’s flood death toll rises to 14 as government urged to act on climate

At least 14 people have been confirmed dead in the floods, the latest a man in Faenza, a picturesque city usually surrounded by green pastures and vineyards but this week left largely underwater.

Emilia Romagna residents clearing their flooded houses

Soggy furniture and personal belongings are piled up in a muddy courtyard in Faenza, Emilia Romagna. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Standing in thick mud, Osazuwa described how his kitchen was submerged after flood waters rose by two metres in just a few hours.

Now he and his wife, helped by friends, have brought out the fridge, washing machine, food and piles of clothes as they try to clean up inside.

In the building opposite, Tommaso Conti goes back and forth with his broom, trying to make a dent in the mud and water that filled the cellars when the nearby Lamone river burst its banks.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why has flooding in northern Italy been so devastating?

“We started early this morning and will probably be working all day,” said the 21-year-old, adding that they were hoping a tractor would come to help them soon.

This is not his own home, “but we know people who live here and it seemed right to lend a hand”, he said.

A resident walks down a muddy street in Faenza

A resident walks down a muddy street in Faenza, Emilia Romagna. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Half a year’s worth of water fell in just 36 hours earlier this week, causing almost two dozen rivers in the region around Ravenna, Cesena and Forlì to burst their banks, submerging neighbourhoods and huge tracts of farmland.

In Faenza, as elsewhere, many of the 60,000 residents have pulled together to try to restore some sense of order in their water-logged streets and homes.

READ ALSO: How you can help people affected by flooding in northern Italy

“We have already done a good job, the situation has improved in two days, but we still have to clean everything up,” said 34-year-old student Yuri Galeotti.

A digger adds to a pile of mud-covered furniture in Faenza

A digger adds to a pile of mud-covered furniture in Faenza, Emilia Romagna. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

He considers himself “lucky” to live on the third floor of his building – the basement was flooded, but water did not reach his apartment. “All the neighbours who are on the ground or first floors had two metres of water, and everything has to be thrown away,” he said.

On the road behind him, breakdown vehicles remove cars submerged or swept away in the floodwaters. Further down the street, a family use shovels and brooms to try to clear the debris, with little effect.

Mud clings to everything, and it starts to rain again.

By AFP’s Hélène Dauschy

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Floods in Italy: Scientists investigate cause of ‘one-in-200-year’ disaster

After floods devastated much of the northeastern Emilia Romagna region this month, researchers said on Wednesday that climate change wasn't the only factor behind the "rare" event.

Floods in Italy: Scientists investigate cause of 'one-in-200-year' disaster

After three cyclones hit the northern Italian region in mid-May, a team of researchers used computer simulations and past observations to investigate whether human-caused climate change was directly responsible – but found things were more complex than that.

IN VIDEOS: How floods devastated Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region

Seventeen people died and tens of thousands were forced to leave their homes after three exceptionally heavy downpours hit the Emilia Romagna region within three weeks, causing landslides and floods that destroyed farmland, towns and businesses.

The World Weather Attribution (WWA) group of climate scientists said May had seen “the wettest event of this type” for two centuries.

Their study estimated there was a 1-in-200 chance that three cyclones would strike within a three-week period, and the team cautioned that this exceptional event meant more time for research was needed.

“This is not the end of the story,″ said study co-author Davide Faranda, a researcher in climate physics at the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute in France, during a panel to present the findings.

“This event is too rare,″ he said 

Car underwater in Emilia Romagna

Entire neighbourhoods in Cesena, Emilia Romagna were left submerged by flooding on May 17th, 2023. Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP

The group – whose goal is to demonstrate reliable links between global warming and certain weather phenomena – said its models suggest such events, in this region at this time of year, are not becoming more frequent or intense.

“It is relatively unusual for an attribution study to find that extreme rainfall was not made more likely by greenhouse gas emissions,” the WWA said in a press statement.

Warmer atmospheres can hold more moisture and therefore often result in more frequent and intense rainfall.

But the group said this was offset by a decrease in the number of low-pressure systems in the central Mediterranean, linked to climate change, which mean less heavy rain.

Drought and urbanisation

It underlined that other climate change-related events are increasing across Italy, with an overall trend towards drought but also changes in seasons leading to potentially less frequent but more intense downpours.

The impact of the Emilia Romagna floods was exacerbated by a two-year drought in northern Italy which left the land dry and hard and unable to absorb the water.

Decades of urbanisation had also increased the flood risk, the study said.

Flooded bungalows in Cesena on May 17, 2023 after heavy rains caused major flooding in central-northern Italy. (Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP)

“Our statistical findings acknowledge the uniqueness of such an event which was driven by an unprecedented sequence of three low-pressure systems in the central Mediterranean,” said Faranda.

He emphasised that it was not that climate change had no role, but the relationship went beyond the organisation’s statistical analyses.

“Although spring heavy rainfall episodes are not increasing in Emilia Romagna, extreme rainfall is increasing in other parts of Italy,” he said.

Almost 94 percent of Italian municipalities are at risk of landslides, floods and coastal erosion, according the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA).

Emilia Romagna is particularly at risk, with a history of flooding and landslides, although nothing even comparable to this month’s disaster has occurred since 1939, said the study, conducted by 13 researchers from Europe and the US.