MILAN (AP) — Search teams have recovered seven dead, including a 3-week-old baby and a pair of young siblings, buried in mud and debris that hurtled down a mountainside and through a populous port town on the resort island of Ischia. officials said on Sunday.
The prefect of Naples confirmed that five people are still missing and they feared they were buried under the rubble of a massive landslide that hit Casamicciola before dawn on Saturday. Its power collapsed buildings and pushed vehicles into the sea.
The other victims were the boy’s parents, a 5-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother, a 31-year-old islander and a Bulgarian tourist.
“Mud and water tend to fill every space,” Luca Cari, spokesman for the Italian firefighters, told RAI state television. “Our teams are looking for hope, even if it’s very difficult.”
“Our greatest hope is that people identified as missing have found shelter with relatives and friends and have not been informed of their position,” he added.
Landslide risks remained in the highest part of the city, near where heavy rainfall loosened a chunk of mountainside, forcing search teams to reach on foot, he said.
Small bulldozers first focused on clearing roads to allow rescue vehicles to pass, while diving teams were called in to check on cars that had been pushed into the sea.
“We continue the search with a broken heart, 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 pray for the victims, for those who are suffering and for those involved in the rescue,” he said.
Naples prefect Claudio Palomba said on Sunday that 30 houses were flooded and more than 200 people were displaced. Five people were injured.
Saturday’s massive predawn landslide was triggered by exceptional rainfall and sent a mass of mud and debris thundering through the port of Casamicciola, collapsing buildings and washing vehicles into the sea.
A widely circulated video showed a man, covered in mud, clinging to a hatch, chest-deep in muddy water. Another family escaped from a house on the mountainside on Sunday, teetering over a precipice, the daily Corriere della Sera reported.
According to officials, 126 millimeters of rain fell on the island in six hours, the heaviest rainfall in 20 years. Experts said the disaster was exacerbated by construction in high-risk areas on the mountainous island, which is also in a seismically active zone. In 2017, two people were killed when a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck Casamicciola and Lacco Ameno.
“There is an area that cannot be occupied. You cannot change the use of a zone where there is water. The course of the water has caused 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 located, said houses in high-risk areas should be demolished, suggesting they were built without the necessary permits.
“People need to understand that you can’t live in some areas. There is no such thing as the need to (build) illegally,” De Luca told RAI. “Buildings in fragile zones must be demolished.”
The Italian government declared a state of emergency for the island at an urgent cabinet meeting on Sunday, earmarking 2 million euros (nearly $2.1 million) for the rescue and restoration of public services.
“The government expresses its solidarity with the citizens, mayors and towns of the island of Ischia, and thanks the rescuers who are searching for the victims,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in a statement.