“All citizens are ordered not to leave their homes and go to higher floors,” one hard-hit city wrote in an all-caps bulletin on Facebook as floodwaters rose.
While Italy has had deadlier floods over the decades, the event was another example of extreme weather following a record drought that leached lakes and rivers and devastated crops. Fabrizio Curcio, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, said the flooded area had seen “about a third of the rainfall you normally get in a year” within a few hours.
“There were moments of horror with really extraordinary water levels,” Curcio said.
A spokesman for the disaster management agency said the area was hit by 400 millimeters, or about 15.75 inches, of rain.
While it’s difficult to link a single event to climate change, experts say moments of extreme weather are becoming more common — including in Italy, where melting Alpine glaciers, summer wildfires and rising seas are chipping away at coastal cities.
Visiting the flooded region, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said flood risks had become a “climate change emergency” and would require preventive measures, including investment in infrastructure.
“It also means fighting climate change,” Draghi said.
Flooding on Friday stretched across the Marche region, from the inland hills to the Adriatic coast. Some mayors of the hard-hit cities noted that there had been no indication such an extreme event might be coming.
“[There was] just a yellow alert from Civil Protection for wind and rain,” Maurizio Greci, the mayor of Sassoferrato, told Italian radio. “Nothing could predict such a disaster.”
In a press release, government authorities said that among the nine dead, two people have yet to be identified and may be among the four people who are officially missing.
Photos taken on Friday showed people beginning the clean-up operation, trudging through mud, holding shovels and drying belongings.
Marche region chief Francesco Acquaroli wrote on his verified Facebook page that he had spoken to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, as well as Draghi, who offered support for “any necessary needs”.
“The pain of what happened runs deep,” Acquaroli wrote.