ROME – Eleven years ago this month, back-to-back earthquakes struck the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, which this week was devastated by another disaster: Widespread flooding that has caused at least 14 deaths and left thousands more homeless.
On Friday, rescue workers continued to clear streets of mud, while towns in the Ravenna area remained submerged. Hundreds of roads were blocked by landslides making travel in the region difficult – with some towns cut off completely – and power was still out in some places.
Officials said the full extent of the damage was still not clear in the region, which had recently been plagued by drought and where few have forgotten the devastating 2012 earthquake.
“We couldn’t have imagined that we would commemorate the 11th anniversary of the earthquake – moreover with the satisfaction of having rebuilt practically everything or almost everything – with a new earthquake to deal with, because that’s what it is,” Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia-Romagna region, said in reference to the flooding at a news conference Friday evening.
But he said the 2012 earthquake had taught an important lesson: “While dealing with the emergency, it is important to plan ahead and think of reconstruction,” he said. “We must keep marching on and go back to producing and creating jobs, to give people a chance.”
Although the Emilia-Romagna region might be less known to foreigners than neighboring Tuscany, many will be familiar with some of its food products, such as Parmesan cheese, from Parma and Reggio Emilia; balsamic vinegar from Modena; and cured Parma ham. Coastal towns such as Rimini and Riccione are popular beach resorts.
But most of the region’s businesses shut their doors this week. Even if spared the rains, hundreds of roads and bridges were out of commission.
“We’re waiting for the waters to subside before we can assess the damage,” said Annalisa Sassi, president of the region’s industrial association. “What I can say, knowing this territory, is that it is very hardworking. So I can imagine we will find the rich spirit that emerged after the earthquake. These are people who don’t give up.”
Experts described the rainfall this week as exceptional. Some areas received nearly 20 inches in 36 hours, about half the annual average. Heavy rains in early May had already saturated the soil, and Tuesday, a storm system moving slowly across Italy funneled extreme downpours over the same area.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.