Southern Europe: the Red Cross responds to extreme weather conditions and floods

Publicado: 6 noviembre 2011 21:37 CET

By Giovanni Zambello

Recent days have seen countries in southern Europe faced with extreme weather conditions, including severe rain and storms. Most affected were south-east France and the north-west regions of Italy. Italy in particular was hit by two devastating waves of flooding in a period of ten days, which have so far left 17 dead.

In France, 11 regions were on alert after heavy rains in the Var and Alpes-Maritime regions left towns flooded, forcing hundreds to leave their homes. According to authorities in Var, at least 750 people were evacuated from flooded areas in the coastal towns of Frejus, Roquebrune and in Tourves, inland north of Toulon. The heavy rain was moving westward toward the Atlantic, putting the Pyrenees region on alert. At least one flood-related death has been reported in France.

Italy is facing a worse situation. Large swathes of the country, especially in the Northwest, have been pummelled by heavy rains and flooding over the last two days. At least 16 people have so far lost their lives in the flash floods in the regions of Liguria and Tuscany. 

The Italian Red Cross is focusing on urban search and rescue (USAR), health care, food assistance, shelter and psychosocial support activities for those affected by the floods.

The National Society is distributing blankets, water, and food to alleviate the most pressing needs of the population, and is present in the affected areas with teams specialized in USAR, shelter and coordination. Italian Red Cross psychologists and social service specialists have also been assigned to the disaster-affected regions with the aim of providing psychosocial support to the people who lost their relatives and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The initial emergency situation developed in the province of La Spezia (Liguria) where we intervened with volunteers, setting up a field kitchen, deploying all-terrain vehicles and distributing 1,000 beds and mattresses,” says Roberto Antonini, Emergency Operation Centre Coordinator in the Italian Red Cross. “Volunteers have been working 12 hours a day to remove mud with spades, water pumps, and excavators or with their bare hands. Two days ago the flooding struck again in Genoa.”

At least six people were killed when the Italian port city of Genoa, the largest city on the north-west coast of Italy, was hit by flash floods during another torrential rainfall, on 4 November. TV footage showed cars floating on the gray waters and people wading knee-deep in the flooded streets of the city. Hundreds of shops were flooded and officials urged residents to move to high ground as two rivers burst their banks. Motorways in the area were also closed off and flights re-routed away from the local airport.

There are currently 310 Italian Red Cross volunteers – including the 120 deployed today in Piedmont - working in the affected areas with roughly 100 supporting vehicles.

“2,300 have so far been evacuated in Liguria, and 500 in the town of Alessandria, Piedmont. Turin was also touched, with one hospital evacuated and parts of the city closed to private transportation,” says Antonini. “The latest worry in the North concerns the Po river, the largest in Italy, which has been swollen by two rain fed-tributaries. Tonight could be a crucial time for the level of the river, which threatens to overflow if the rains persist. If it did, up to five regions could be affected. We are working in support of the local Civil Protection in Piedmont to monitor the Po River, and ready to take further actions if necessary.”

In the meanwhile, an orange alert was issued for southern Italy, especially Campania, where one person died today. 20 Red Cross volunteers have been deployed in support to the affected people.

The Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are monitoring the situation closely.