by Alessandra Cardone
ROME, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) — At least 12 people were killed due to heavy rains and floods in the southern Sicily region, Italian authorities said on Sunday.
Nine people belonging to two families died when a river burst its banks and partially submerged their house in Casteldaccia, a town in the Palermo province, according to the national Civil Protection Agency.
The incident occurred overnight on Saturday. Among the nine victims were three children aged one, three, and 15, one of the children’s mother and grandparents.
Their house near the river was literally engulfed by water and mud, leaving most of people inside trapped.
The small watercourse that burst its banks had never caused problems before, according to local authorities. “This is a tragedy for us,” the town mayor, Giovanni Di Giacinto, told local reporters on the scene soon after the incident.
“The Milicia (river) has never posed any threat to Casteldaccia, and we are still struggling to comprehend how this could have happened.”
A man working in a petrol station also died when his car was swept away by water in the same area, while two further victims were registered in the province of Agrigento, southwest Sicily.
One man was still missing as of mid-Sunday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a post on Facebook just before visiting the affected areas.
According to Ansa news agency, the missing would be a 40-year-old doctor travelling on his car to reach the hospital in Corleone to start his shift. Firefighters found his car on the side of a road that was partially flooded and hit by landslides.
“I am going to call an emergency cabinet meeting early next week to declare a state of emergency,” Conte said in his post.
“With this provision, the government will have access to the first resources necessary to overcome the emergency.”
Before calling the meeting, the prime minister was expected to visit both Palermo and Agrigento provinces in Sicily, and other areas hit by heavy rains and landslides in the last weeks in northern Italy.
The northeast province of Belluno — near the border with Austria — was among those most affected.
The Civil Protection agency issued a red alert (highest level of warning) on Sunday for meteorological and hydro-geological risk in the northeast regions of Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, central Emilia Romagna, and southern Sicily, Sardinia, and Calabria.
A yellow alert (medium level) was issued for further 13 regions.
Speaking in Trieste at the ceremony for Italy’s National Unity and Armed Forces Day — celebrated on Nov. 4 — President Sergio Mattarella sent his solidarity to the families of the victims, and thanked army, rescue services, and volunteers for their efforts in this emergency.