12 dead, more than 20 missing, including two fire fighters, as France and Italy launches rescue mission after floods
Storm Alex has caused major flooding in Italy and France that has swept away people and homes and left behind enormous damage. French and Italian rescue services stepped up search efforts Sunday, 4 October 2020, after floods cut off several villages in the mountainous border regions, causing widespread damage and killing at least twelve people. Others remained unaccounted for on the French side of the border after storms, torrential rain and flash floods battered the area, washing away roads and houses, cutting off entire villages and triggering landslips. The missing include two French fire fighters whose vehicle was carried away by a torrent when a road collapsed south of the village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie.
Emergency services recovered at least four bodies Sunday on the Mediterranean coast of Liguria, Italy. Italian and French teams were working together to try to identify them. In Breil-sur-Roya, a French village close to the Italian border, houses were buried in mud and turned-over cars were stuck in the riverbed. Rescue efforts were concentrated on the Roya valley where roughly 1 000 fire fighters, backed by helicopters and the army, resumed their search for survivors and helped people whose homes were destroyed or inaccessible. France has declared the region a natural disaster zone. Saint-Martin-Vesubie, a village home to 1 400 north of Nice on the French Riviera, was completely cut off by the storm after almost a year's average rainfall fell in less than 12 hours. Across the region, emergency crews were handing out food and airlifting thousands of bottles of water into remote villages cut off by the storms. Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi said over 100 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex inspected the damage by helicopter on Saturday, 3 October 2020, saying he feared the number of people missing could rise after dozens of cars and several houses were swept away in apocalyptic scenes.
Many landline and some mobile phone services were disrupted, with some villages using satellite phones to communicate with rescue services.
The presidents of Italy's Piedmont and Liguria regions signed a joint letter calling on the government to declare a state of emergency with several villages cut off.
"The situation is very serious. It is like it was in 1994," when 70 died after the Po and Tarano rivers flooded, Piedmont's president, Alberto Cirio, told La Stampa newspaper. "The difference being 630 mm of water fell in 24 hours — unprecedented in such a small timeframe since 1954."
Cirio added Italy was already struggling to cope with the effects of the coronavirus, which has left some 36 000 dead and shattered the economy over the past six months. "We are already in an extraordinary situation. Because of the pandemic the region will this year receive 200 million euros less in tax receipts. If the state does not intervene (with rescue funding) we shall not recover."
On Saturday an Italian rescue team used a helicopter to rescue the stranded near the French town of Vievola, which included a woman and her two grandchildren. A further eight people were rescued after they climbed from the mountain pass to a tunnel which was reached using a bulldozer.
Italian fire fighters also rescued 25 people trapped on the French side of a high mountain pass due to the flooding.
About 10 500 homes were left without electricity on Sunday, French energy company Enedis said.
Fast-flowing waters were found to have unearthed corpses in several cemeteries. Local authorities in the French towns of Saint-Martin-de-Vesubie and Tende say their cemeteries have been partly washed away. But it is not clear how many bodies have been lost. A spokeswoman for the Alpes-Maritimes regional administration confirmed a number of corpses had been discovered over the border in Italy but was unable to say how many as it was not known whether this included the storm dead. Remains have also been found on the Mediterranean shore, having been washed down the mountainside by severe flooding. The spokeswoman, who could not be named due to official policy, added that the corpses would be in a much more advanced stage of decay than the bodies of recent victims and, therefore, more easily distinguishable.
Wolf park destroyed
The Alpha Wolf Park, in Saint-Martin-Vésubie in the Alpes-Maritimes, was destroyed by the flooding on Friday according to the French Office for Biodiversity. At least one wolf was confirmed to have died, but the fate of the remaining wolves, which number around 10, is currently unknown. There are three different types of wolves missing: Canadian wolves, white wolves from Alaska and grey wolves from Central Europe. "We know from witnesses that the park is destroyed and that there is at least one dead wolf," Eric Hansen, regional director of the French Office for Biodiversity, told media. "When it is possible, OFB agents will be sent to assess the situation," he added, saying if the wolves have left the park's enclosure, they will be captured.
Sources: AFP, Euro News and others