ROME — Eleven people died and at least four others were missing after an overnight rainstorm dumped more than a foot of rain on a coastal area of central Italy, officials said on Friday, turning streets into rivers, blocking bridges and highways, and leaving thousands without electricity or gas.
The downpour swept through a swath of the central Marche region, inland from the seaside cities of Senigallia and Ancona, overwhelming several small towns. In a post on social media, firefighters said that they had rescued dozens of people who had taken refuge on their roofs or in trees.
A civil protection official, Luigi d’Angelo, said that about 16 inches of rain had fallen in two to three hours. “It was an extremely intense event,” he told the news agency ANSA.
The storm was just the latest destructive meteorological event in Italy across a summer that has also included one of the worst droughts in recent history, which has taken a severe toll on the country’s agricultural sector.
Coldiretti, an Italian confederation of agricultural producers, said in a statement on Thursday that this summer had been the worst in a decade for extreme weather, citing 1,642 events that included hailstorms, flash floods, high winds and severe rainstorms.
Data from the European Severe Weather Database showed “a fivefold increase from the beginning of the decade” in the number of events, Coldiretti said.
Italy’s long, hot summer was repeatedly interrupted by violent rains, “an evident tendency toward the tropicalization of the climate with a devastating impact on agricultural production and the lives of people,” the association said in the statement, adding that the damage to the agriculture industry had topped $6 billion.
Flooding is a complex phenomenon with many causes, including land development and ground conditions. While linking climate change to a single flood event requires extensive scientific analysis, climate change, which is already causing heavier rainfall in many storms, is an increasingly important part of the mix. Warmer atmosphere holds, and releases, more water, whether in the form of rain or heavy winter snowpack.
Antonello Pasini, a scientist with the National Research Council of Italy, said that artificial climate change was affecting the Mediterranean with drastic alternations between hot air intrusions from the south and cold fronts from the north. That, in turn, “is creating disasters that we unfortunately see increasingly frequently,” he said.
He added that Italy’s particular geological configuration, with narrow valleys and torrential rivers, made it prone to landslides “and even more fragile.”
Such events are becoming more commonplace throughout the globe: droughts in the Horn of Africa, Mexico and China; flash floods in West and Central Africa, Iran and the inland United States; searing heat waves in India, Japan, California, Britain and elsewhere in Europe. In July, 11 people were killed by an avalanche while climbing a glacier in northern Italy, after record high temperatures in the area.