Italian rescuers search for missing in island landslide

An aerial view of damaged houses after heavy rainfall triggered landslides that collapsed buildings and left as many as 12 people missing, in Casamicciola, on the southern Italian island of Ischia. [AP Photo]

Search teams pulled the body of a young girl from her family home on Sunday as they dug through mud for a second day in the search for people still missing after an enormous landslide on the Italian resort island of Ischia.

The Naples prefect confirmed that the death toll in the tragedy had risen to two, following also the recovery of the body of a 31-year-old woman from the island on Saturday.

A further 10 people remained missing in the port town of Casamicciola, feared buried under mud and debris.

“Mud and water tend to fill every space,″ the spokesperson 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.

Small bulldozers focused on clearing roads overnight 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.

The Naples prefect, Claudio Palomba, said on Sunday that 15 homes had been overwhelmed by the stream of mud. In addition to the dead and missing, four people were injured and more than 160 displaced.

The massive landslide before dawn on Saturday was triggered by exceptional rainfall, and sent a mass of mud and debris hurtling through the port of Casamicciola, collapsing 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.

The island received 126 millimeters (nearly five 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 an seismically active zone. Two people were killed in 2017 when a 4.0-magnitude quake 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 located, said houses in areas at risk must be demolished, suggesting 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 2 million euros (nearly $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,” Premier Giorgia Meloni said in a statement.