Sardinia unites in grief to bury victims of Italy cyclone

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 19, 2013 3:02 AM
Sardinia unites in grief to bury victims of Italy cyclone

By Gabriele Pileri

TEMPIO PAUSANIA, Italy (Reuters) - The victims of a cyclone that tore through the Italian island of Sardinia were buried on Wednesday as grieving family and friends demanded an explanation for the devastation inflicted on their communities.

Authorities said 16 people had been killed by Cyclone Cleopatra, revising down a death toll of 18, as extreme rainfall inundated houses, swept away cars and caused rivers to burst their banks late on Monday. One person was still missing.

The weather system moved to mainland Italy overnight, with storms pummeling Rome and flooding vast areas of the southern province of Crotone, closing roads and railway lines.

A weather alert remained in place for the island as emergency services shoveled away piles of mud and debris that had blocked roads and wrecked houses

More than 1,000 people crammed inside and around the cathedral of the Sardinian town of Tempio Pausania to mourn a husband and wife who died with another relative when their car was submerged by a mudslide.

"These are just very difficult moments, we have a feeling of great suffering and solidarity with the remaining family," said Rosanna Pala, a family friend.

Angry townsfolk demanded an inquiry into the destruction, which many said was caused by bad maintenance of roads.

Flooding and landslides are common in the mountainous areas that dominate much of Italy, but environmental groups says risk reckless construction puts lives at risk.

The disaster has put a spotlight on whether Italy's cash-strapped local governments can deal with sudden emergencies, with resources sapped by the country's longest post-war recession.


Residents of Olbia, a town of 50,000 people that was among the worst hit areas of Sardinia and which buried six residents on Wednesday, said the cyclone had left them with nothing, and that help was not coming fast enough.

"My boyfriend and I escaped by swimming through the window, and we managed to make it upstairs," Bruna Argiolas, 36, told Reuters.

"They say the army is here to help, but we have not seen anyone. My family and my neighbors, we all said the road was dangerous, we have a permanent risk of flooding. We told the mayor's office many times, and no one did anything."

Some roads collapsed in the storm, which uprooted trees, swept away bridges and caused walls to collapse.

Among the dead were a father and his three-year-old son, swept away by a wave of water as relatives tried to save them.

"He was saying 'Granddad! Granddad!', and I couldn't do anything," Paolo Mazzoccu told the newspaper Corriere della Sera as he prepared to bury his son and grandson.

"We threw them a rope but they couldn't catch it, the force of the water was too great."

Among the accounts of despair, some told stories of heroism, such as that of 31-year-old German woman Martina Feick, who swam across a torrent of water to save neighbor, 78-year-old Tonia Sanna Biddau, who thought she was going to drown in her home.

Feick managed to bring both Biddau and her dog to safety.

Authorities said the cyclone had displaced 1,700 people, many of whom had been put up in hotels and emergency shelters, and that 46 people were injured, three of them critically.

Residents of Sardinia used social media to offer spare beds to those who had to abandon flooded homes, as politicians called for more investment into infrastructure to make communities less vulnerable to extreme weather.

(Writing by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Alison Williams)