The swollen Milicia River runs in the area where nine people lost their lives when their home was flooded in Casteldaccia, near Palermo, Italy on November 4, 2018. (Photo: AP)
Storms lashing Sicily have killed at least 12 people with torrential floods, Italian authorities said Sunday, including nine members of two families who were spending a long weekend together in a country home near Palermo that was overrun by water from a rapidly swelling river.
After surveying the stricken Mediterranean island by helicopter, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said two of the victims were a German couple whose car was swept away by flood waters near Agrigento, a tourist town known for its ancient Greek temples.
State broadcaster RaiNews24 said the sole survivor of the flooded home in Casteldaccia was stepping outside when the torrent of water and mud rushed in.
When he opened the door, “there was a river of water, I was knocked down and grabbed hold of a tree,” Giuseppe Giordano told reporters between sobs. “I was yelling, ‘Help, help.’”
The Italian news agency ANSA said Giordano lost his wife, two of his children, his parents and a brother in the flood. He has a daughter who was elsewhere when the flooding struck.
Italian news reports said the dead included a 1-year--old, a 3-year-old and a teenager.
The two families had gathered in the villa during Italy’s long weekend centering on the Nov. 1 All Saint’s Day national holiday.
Although Italian news reports had described him of the house’s owner, Giordano said he was renting the villa.
Casteldaccia Mayor Giovanni Di Giacinto told Sky TG24 that the flood water reached 2 meters (move than 6 feet) high inside the home.
Premier Conte called the disaster “an immense tragedy.”
Rescuers retrieved the bodies from the home. A Sicilian prosecutor opened an investigation to determine if neglect, such as possible inadequate drainage of the river, played a role in the deaths or if the home was built illegally close to the river.
The latter might be the case. Pino Virga, the mayor of the neighboring town of Altavilla Milicia, told SkyTG24 TV that other local authorities told him the house was slated for demolition because it stood too near the river.
A nursing home up the road was spared any damage, ANSA reported.
Only days earlier, other storms battered much of northern Italy, killing at least 15 people, uprooting millions of trees near Alpine valleys and leaving several Italian villages without electricity or road access for days.
Conte said a special Cabinet meeting could be in the coming days to deliberate aid for storm-ravaged communities, as well as to approve 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) to ensure safe hydrogeological conditions in Italy, including proper cleaning of riverbeds.
The other known casualty in Sicily was a man whose body was also found on a guardrail along a Palermo-area road after floodwaters swept away his car, Italian news reports said.
Across the island, in the town of Cammarata, near Agrigento, the fire department said its divers worked to recover the bodies of the couple whose car was caught up in the flooding waters of the Saraceno River.
Also in Agrigento province, firefighters rescued 14 people from a hotel in the town of Montevago, which was threatened by floodwaters from the Belice River.
Elsewhere in Sicily, at least two other people were missing Sunday after floodwaters swept away their cars, including a doctor heading to the hospital in the hill town of Corleone.
In Casteldaccia, Maria Concetta Alfano said she, her husband and their adult disabled daughter fled after barking dogs drew their attention to the rising waters in the Milicia River. ANSA quoted the husband, Andrea Cardenale, as saying he drove away as “water was up to the hood of the car.