Friendship and hot meals for Italy’s flood displaced in temporary shelters

Many of the 36,000 people left homeless following deadly flooding in northern Italy are now living in makeshift emergency accommodation, where volunteers say they're trying to make everyone feel welcome.

Friendship and hot meals for Italy's flood displaced in temporary shelters
Local residents rest in an emergency accomodated sports hall in Castel Bolognese, near Faenza, on May 20, 2023. Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP.

Ludmilla distracts herself from the memories of rising flood waters by tidying up around her makeshift bed in a gym at Castel Bolognese sheltering some of those who lost their homes.

The 66-year-old has befriended young volunteers, who have agreed to come with her on Sunday to inspect her damaged house in the nearby village of Solarolo and start cleaning up.

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

She doesn’t expect to be able to move back in for at least a month though, after devastating floods which pummelled the Emilia Romagna region in northeast Italy this week, leaving 14 people dead.

It happened “without warning,” says Ludmilla, who moved to Italy from Ukraine 16 years ago, and who did not want to give her last name.

“They said ‘a little bit of water will come, a little bit’,” she notes, but she and her 97-year-old husband soon found themselves up to their waists in water.

“My husband said ‘I’ve seen three wars, but I’ve never seen anything like this’,” she adds.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP.

“We were stuck there, without water, without food. I called the fire brigade, the police.

“They were good people, as are the volunteers here,” she says. “There’s food, there’s everything”.

Ludmilla’s husband was taken to hospital. She can only wait here for the waters to recede, as volunteers move among the rows of beds, boxes of donated food and essential items.

A few beds away, neighbours Alfonso Brocchi and Iolanda Soglia are going back over what happened.

“At three am, the upstairs neighbour called me and said ‘Alfonso, come up, the water is coming’,” says Brocchi, 76, who rushed to help Soglia, who has muscular dystrophy.

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

His son had called the fire brigade to get them out, but Brocchi was not sure how to reach them.

“I could get a step ladder and get through the window, but she couldn’t,” Brocchi says.

“So they (the firemen) said ‘open the door’. And when I opened the door it was like a rushing river.”

The pair were rescued along with a 102-year-old woman, and taken by the fire brigade to the shelter.

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

Other displaced people are expected to arrive in a few hours, but the beds are not only for them.

Volunteers from the civil protection and rescue workers also take the opportunity to grab a few hours sleep between shifts, or wind down over a hot meal.

Some 200 of the 10,000 or so residents in Castel Bolognese were evacuated Monday as a precaution, before the floods hit overnight.

The muddy waters which swept through the streets left a trail of desolation behind.

Volunteers clean mud from a flooded courtyard in Faenza. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

At the entrance to the gym, paper towels, blankets and bags of donated clothes are piled up along the wall in a line which lengthens as the day goes on.

The general hubbub is soothing, lulling the weary to sleep. The shelter team hopes its efforts will help the newly homeless to lead a life as normal as possible.

“After this disaster, it is important that everyone feels at home here,” says Paola Barilli, 52, who is in charge of some 60 volunteers.

“Everyone is welcome, even animals”, she adds.

And as if to prove her right, among the guests is a family which brought its nine cats along.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.