The extreme weather with a heatwave in southern Italy, and the storms in northern Italy have claimed five lives in the past two days. Wildfires rage in Sicily with Palermo almost isolated by the flames.
Italy is experiencing one of the most difficult days in decades, Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci said on today.
“In Italy we are experiencing one of the most complicated days in recent decades: cloudbursts, tornadoes, hail in the North; torrid heat and devastating fires in the Centre-South,” said the minister.
“As we mourn the three victims of these 24 hours, I feel I must thank the fire brigade, the civil protection management and volunteers, the police force, the forestry workers and all those who have mobilised in the most difficult situations in these last few hours,” he continued.
“The climate upheaval demands a step change from all of us, with no alibis for anyone. But today let us deal with containing the damage. And there is a lot!” said Musumeci.
Temperatures in Palermo hit 47º on Monday. The European record of 48.8C was registered in Floridia, Sicily, in August 2021. The extreme weather events have been increasing in Italy every year, causing not only environmental but economical strife.
Sicily on fire
Earlier today, a large wildfire near Catania led a local mayor to call for the intervention of Canadair water-dumping planes.
The mayor of Aci Catena, Margherita Ferro, asked for help on social media for the fire that has been raging for hours in the hamlet of San Nicolò. Cars, trees and homes are either in jeopardy or have been destroyed.
On the municipality’s Facebook page she spoke of a “dramatic situation”. She asked for help, also urging “the intervention of helicopters and Canadair” and also called on citizens to stay at home.
More than 55 wildfires on Sicily led to the temporary closure of Palermo airport and part of the motorway. Hundreds of firefighters from other parts of Italy were due to arrive to help fight the fires.
An 88-year-old woman was reported to have died in San Martino delle Scale. A few miles from the Sicilian capital, disruption caused by the fires prevented emergency services from reaching her in time.
With fires almost surrounding the town, residents took to the streets. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” a San Martino delle Scale resident told Ansa news agency. “We were surrounded by fire. We could not go anywhere and spent the night in the square. These were terrible moments.”
The 15th century church of the convent of Santa Maria di Gesù, located on the outskirts of Palermo, was also hit by the flames.
More than 120 families were evacuated from their homes in Mondello, Capo Gallo and Poggio Ridente, near Palermo, since Monday. Over 200 people in Palermo have sought medical attention for smoke inhalation.
Not only Sicily facing wildfires
Some 2,000 people were evacuated from three hotels at Vieste in Puglia Tuesday due to a threatening wildfire.
Tourists are leaving the facilities Residence Gattarella, Hotel Portonovo and Hotel Gargano to go to a gym in the center of Vieste, set up by the municipality so that they can spend the night there “in case they can not return to the structures”, said Vieste Mayor Giuseppe Nobiletti.
The situation is said to be complex because the flames are fed by the strong wind. Some Canadairs are also in action.
On the ground, Carabinieri forest guards, firefighters and civil protection workers are working to put out the flames.
Local police officers were also on site to divert traffic.
Storms in the north of Italy kill four
Weather-wise, Italy was a tale of two weather systems. Whilst Sicily and the south suffer from infernal heat and wildfires, the north has been battered by storms.
On Monday, bad weather felled trees and blocked the metro in Milan. The northern Italian rail company Trenord said its network had experienced widespread damage and breakdowns.
A 58-year-old woman died after being crushed by a tree in Monza. A young couple died after the driver lost control of their car on a slippery road in Varese. A 16-year-old girl scout died after a storm-felled tree hit her tent near Brescia earlier in the day.
Lombardy’s fire service received hundreds of calls as strong winds ripped the roofs off several homes.
The governor of the Lombardy Region, Attilio Fontana, today formally submitted a request for the recognition of a state of emergency of national importance for Lombardy due to devastating storms. In justifying the request, the governor explained that “in the territories concerned, the regional civil protection system structure is fully operational’ for the necessary interventions to assist the population and remove the material that has invaded the roads, urban centres and involved public and private buildings.”
The Milan mayor, Giuseppe Sala said: “What we are seeing is not normal. We can no longer deny that climate change is changing our lives. We can no longer turn a blind eye, and above all, we can’t not do anything.”
Musumeci, said, “Climate change is not just a contingency and Italy must realise that it now has a tropical climate. On the one hand, we are paying the price of climate change, for which we should have paid more attention several years ago. And, on the other, of infrastructure that does not seem to be totally adequate for the new context.”