Italian PM tours flooded areas in north, promises support

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Photo taken on May 19, 2023 shows a road damaged in a landslide in Bologna, Emilia-Romagna region, Italy. (Photo by Gianni Schicchi/Xinhua)

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has returned early from the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima to visit Italy's flood-ravaged region of Emilia-Romagna as details from what is being called the worst floods to hit Italy in a century began to be calculated.

The north-central Italian region was lashed by more than six months' worth of rain in a 36-hour span on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, leaving at least 14 dead in its wake. More than 36,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and as of Monday, around 5,000 were still being housed in emergency government centers including cinemas, warehouses, and museums. More than 20,000 people in the region were still without power as of Monday, according to media reports.

On her visit to the area on Sunday, Meloni said the damage to the region was so far "incalculable." Adolfo Urso, Italy's minister of enterprises, said on Monday that a cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday would see the approval of a support package for the region.

Aerial photo taken on May 17, 2023 shows a flooded area in Rimini, Emilia-Romagna region, Italy. (Xinhua)

Also on Monday, Italy's main agri-food sector association Coldiretti estimated that the damage to agriculture and livestock in Emilia-Romagna would be felt for years.

The area is a top Italian producer of wheat, strawberries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, and apples, as well as pork, poultry, beef and other types of meat.

It said that around 15 million plants would have to be pulled up and replanted in the region and that at least 400 million kg of wheat has been lost after fields became submerged. It also said that around 250,000 cattle, pigs, sheep and goats were at risk and that around 400 poultry farms had been flooded.

Coldiretti estimated that the damage to the agricultural sector alone was worth 1.5 billion euros (1.6 billion U.S. dollars).

"The flood that hit the Romagna area also puts biodiversity at risk, with entire productions being canceled after the farmers had managed in recent years to save them from extinction," Coldiretti said in a statement.

Meloni departed the G7 summit in Japan early to rush to the scene of the flood, touring the damaged areas in high plastic boots and wading into submerged fields to assess the damage before returning to Rome. She issued a statement vowing to stand by those who suffered from the unprecedented events.

Rescuers work in a flooded area in Bologna, Emilia-Romagna region, Italy, on May 17, 2023. (Photo by Gianni Schicchi/Xinhua)

"It will be necessary to work on compensation and reconstruction," Meloni said via social media. "For this, a complete estimate and a streamlining of procedures will be necessary and we are ready to do our part."

Italy has suffered under the impact of different waves of severe weather for a year and a half, with a dry period over the winter between 2021-2022 giving way to a record-setting drought and high temperatures last summer, resulting in dozens of deaths and slashed national agricultural production by as much as a third.

Water levels in many parts of the nation's network of rivers dropped to all-time lows and a lack of snowfall in the winter of 2022-2023 gave rise to concerns that the coming summer could be another difficult one for Italian farmers and travelers in the country. 

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