ROME: At least 10 people died and four were missing after violent storms lashed central Italy, reports said Friday, pushing the issue of climate change up the agenda the week before elections.
Water swept through towns and villages, turning streets into rivers after about 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain reportedly fell in two hours.
Emergency services initially put the death toll at seven but this rose mid-morning to 10, according to the AGI news agency, citing local authorities.
One of those earlier reported missing was a child travelling in a car. The mother was rescued but the child was washed away by the floodwaters, AGI said.
The fire service said it had 300 people working on the floods and “dozens of people” had been saved overnight after they took refuge on roofs of houses and in trees.
The worst hit area was Ancona, a port city on the Adriatic, where several areas were without electricity or telephone connections. Schools were closed Friday in the affected zones.
The streets of the port town of Senigallia, a little up the coast, were turned into rivers, while aerial footage of the inland hamlet of Pianello di Ostra showed streets caked with mud and cars piled up after being swept away.
The tragedy occurs just days before September 25 general elections, and condolences for those affected poured in from across the political spectrum.
Frontrunner Giorgia Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party is hoping to become prime minister, offered “full solidarity” with those affected.
The president of the region surrounding Ancona, Marche, is a member of her party.
Extreme climate events
The flooding came after a drought in Italy, and many have drawn the link with climate change - a subject which has taken a back seat during the election campaign.
“How can you think that the fight against climate change is not the first priority?” said Meloni’s main rival, Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party.
He said he was “stunned and speechless” at the news from Marche, saying he was suspending campaigning in the region.
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said its teams were heading to help.
“Very concerned by the growth of extreme weather events,” he said on Twitter.
This summer’s drought, the worst in 70 years, drained the Po River, Italy’s largest water reservoir.
The baking heat has in recent weeks been followed by storms, the water flooding land rendered hard as concrete.
In July, 11 people were killed when a section of Italy’s biggest Alpine glacier gave way, in a disaster officials blamed on climate change.
The EU’s economy commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, a former Italian premier, said he shed tears for the victims of the floods in Marche.
“Italy and Europe must take climate change seriously,” he tweeted.