ROME (Reuters) - An elderly couple was believed to be buried under a mudslide which crushed their house in northern Italy and a woman, trapped in her Tuscany home by heavy flooding, died of a heart attack on Tuesday.
There was little hope of finding the couple alive after the wave of mud and debris hit the village of Leivi in the north-western region of Liguria, a spokesman for the civil protection agency said.
The regions of Tuscany, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna were all badly affected by torrential rain and flooding.
As the rain persisted, schools were closed and the civil protection agency said it would maintain maximum alert levels in Liguria until Wednesday afternoon at the earliest.
"Some towns have had more the 20 centimeters (8 inches) of rain in 12 hours on terribly fragile terrain," the head of Italy's civil protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, said.
Buildings were evacuated in Liguria's main city, Genoa, and several towns in the region were knee deep in water after torrential rain caused three rivers to burst their banks, rekindling a festering row over environmental neglect.
Italy's unstable, mountainous landscape leaves it vulnerable to flooding and landslides and Liguria, between the sea and a ring of steep mountains, is particularly exposed. The problems have long been made worse by abandonment of farmland, unauthorized construction and poorly planned infrastructure.
Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said much of the responsibility lay with repeated amnesties which have encouraged illegal housebuilding, and vowed that the amnesties would stop.
(Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Louise Ireland)