MILAN — Torrential rain triggered a massive landslide on the southern Italian holiday island of Ischia early Saturday, destroying buildings and sweeping parked cars into the sea, leaving at least one person dead and up to 12 missing.
A woman’s body was pulled from the mud, Naples prefect Claudio Palomba told a news conference.
As the rain continued, rescuers worked gingerly with small bulldozers to sift through some six to seven meters (yard) of mud and debris for possible victims. Reinforcements arrived by ferry, including teams of sniffer dogs to aid the search effort.
The force of the mud that slid down the mountainside just before dawn was strong enough to send cars and buses onto the beaches and into the sea at the port of Casamicciola, on the north side of the island, which is off Naples.
According to officials, 126 millimeters of rain fell on the island in six hours, the heaviest rainfall in 20 years.
Streets were impassable and mayors on the island urged people to stay home. At least 100 people were stranded without electricity and water, and about 70 were housed in a community gymnasium.
There was confusion about the death toll early on. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini initially said eight people were dead, followed by the interior minister saying no deaths had been confirmed, while 10 to 12 were reported missing.
“The situation is very complicated and very serious because probably some of those people are covered in mud,” Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told RAI state television from an emergency command center in Rome.
ANSA reported that at least 10 buildings collapsed. A family with a newborn baby previously reported missing was located and received medical care, the prefect of Naples said.
Video footage from the island showed small bulldozers clearing roads as residents used hoses to get mud out of their homes. A man identified as Benjamin Iacono told Sky TG24 that mud overwhelmed three adjacent stores he owns, completely wiping out his inventory. He estimated the damage at 100,000 euros to 150,000 euros ($104,000 to $156,000).
Firefighters and the Coast Guard conducted search and rescue efforts, initially hampered by high winds that prevented helicopters and boats from reaching the island.
The densely populated mountainous island is a popular tourist destination for both its beaches and spas. A magnitude 4.0 earthquake on the island in 2017 killed two people and caused significant damage to the towns of Casamicciola and neighboring Lacco Ameno.