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Searching with ‘hearts broken’: Newborn among 7 dead in landslide on Italian resort island

Houses damaged by rainfall-triggered landslides
Heavy rainfall triggered landslides that destroyed homes and killed at least seven people on the southern Italian island of Ischia, including two siblings, 5 and 11, and a newborn.
(Salvatore Laporta / Associated Press)
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Search teams have recovered seven dead, including a 3-week-old infant and a pair of young siblings, buried in mud and debris that hurtled down a mountainside and through a densely populated port city on the resort island of Ischia, officials said Sunday.

Naples’ prefect confirmed that five people remained missing and feared buried under the debris of an enormous landslide that struck Casamicciola before dawn Saturday. Its force collapsed buildings and pushed vehicles into the sea.

The other victims were identified as the infant boy’s parents, a 5-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother, a 31-year-old island resident and a Bulgarian tourist.

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“Mud and water tend to fill every space,” the spokesman for Italian firefighters, Luca Cari, told RAI state TV. ”Our teams are searching with hope, even if it is very difficult....

“Our biggest hope is that people identified as missing have found refuge with relatives and friends and have not advised of their position,” he added.

The risks of landslides remained in the highest part of the town, near where heavy rainfall loosened a chunk of mountainside, requiring search teams to enter by foot, he said.

A century after Benito Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome brought the fascist dictator to power, the Brothers of Italy party won the most votes in Italy’s national election Sunday. Experts cite voter disillusionment rather than ideology.

Small bulldozers first focused on clearing roads to allow rescue vehicles to pass, while dive teams were brought in to check cars that had been pushed into the sea.

“We are continuing the search with our hearts broken, because among the missing are also minors,” Giacomo Pascale, the mayor of the neighboring town of Lacco Ameno, told RAI.

Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of Ischia during the traditional Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square. “I am praying for the victims, for those who are suffering and for those who are involved in the rescue,” he said.

Rescuers on a boat pull a damaged car from the sea.
Rescuers remove a damaged car from the sea on Sunday after heavy rainfall triggered landslides in Casamicciola, on the southern Italian island of Ischia.
(Salvatore Laporta / Associated Press)

The Naples prefect, Claudio Palomba, said Sunday that 30 homes had been inundated and more than 200 people had been displaced. In addition to the dead and missing, five people were injured, he said.

Exactly 100 years ago Friday, the Black Shirt March on Rome triggered events that brought Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to power.

The massive landslide before dawn Saturday was triggered by exceptional rainfall and sent mud and debris hurtling down a mountainside toward the port of Casamicciola, flattening buildings and sweeping vehicles into the sea.

One widely circulated video showed a man covered with mud, clinging to a shutter, chest-deep in muddy water. Another family escaped a home on the mountainside that appeared Sunday to teeter over a precipice, the daily Corriere della Sera reported.

Homes are covered in mud after a heavy rainfall triggered landslides that collapsed buildings.
Landslides inundated and collapsed buildings on the southern Italian island of Ischia.
(Salvatore Laporta / Associated Press)

The island received nearly 5 inches of rain in six hours, the heaviest rainfall in 20 years, according to officials. Experts said the disaster was exacerbated by building in areas of high risk on the mountainous island, which is also in a seismically active zone. Two people were killed in 2017 when a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck Casamicciola and Lacco Ameno.

“There is territory that cannot be occupied. You cannot change the use of a zone where there is water. The course of the water created this disaster,” geologist Riccardo Caniparoli told RAI. “There are norms and laws that were not respected.”

Vincenzo De Luca, president of the Campagna region, where Ischia is, said houses in areas at risk must be torn down, suggesting that they had been built without necessary permits.

“People need to understand that you cannot live in some areas. There is no such thing as the necessity [to build] illegally,” De Luca told RAI. “Buildings in fragile zones should be demolished.”

The Italian government declared a state of emergency for the island during an urgent Cabinet meeting Sunday, earmarking about $2.1 million for the rescue and to restore public services.

“The government expresses its closeness to the citizens, mayors and towns of the island of Ischia, and thanks the rescue workers searching for the victims,” Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, said in a statement.


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