MILAN (AP) – Search teams have recovered seven dead, including a 3-week-old toddler and two young siblings, buried in mud and debris that tumbled down a mountainside and through a densely populated port town on the resort island of Ischia, officials said on Sunday .
The Prefect of Naples confirmed five people remain missing and feared being buried under the rubble of a huge landslide that hit Casamicciola before dawn on Saturday. Its force collapsed buildings and threw vehicles into the sea.
The other victims were identified as the little 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, the spokesman for the Italian Fire Service, told state television RAI. “Our teams are looking for hope, even if it’s very difficult.”
“Our greatest hope is that those identified as missing have found refuge with relatives and friends and have not been informed of their location,” he added.
The risk of landslides remained in the highest part of the city, near where heavy rains loosened part of the mountainside and search teams had to enter on foot, he said.
Small bulldozers initially focused on clearing roads to allow rescue vehicles to pass, while dive teams were called in to check cars that had been pushed into the sea.
“We continue the search heartbroken because among the missing are minors,” Giacomo Pascale, the mayor of the neighboring town of Lacco Ameno, told RAI.
Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with the people of Ischia during the traditional Sunday prayer 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 Sunday that 30 homes had been flooded and more than 200 people had been displaced. Five people were injured.
Triggered by exceptional rainfall, Saturday’s massive pre-dawn landslide sent a mass of mud and debris through the port of Casamicciola, collapsing buildings and sweeping vehicles into the sea.
One widely circulated video showed a man covered in mud clinging to a shutter chest-deep in the muddy water. Another family fled a mountainside home that appeared to be tumbling over a precipice on Sunday, daily Corriere della Sera reported.
The island received 126 millimeters (nearly five inches) of rain in six hours, the heaviest rainfall in 20 years, officials said. Experts said the disaster was compounded by construction in high-risk areas on the mountainous island, which is also in a seismically active zone. Two people were killed in 2017 when a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck Casamicciola and Lacco Ameno.
“There are areas that cannot be occupied. You cannot change the use of a zone that has water. The course of the water caused this disaster,” geologist Riccardo Caniparoli told RAI. “There are norms and laws that have not been complied with.”
Vincenzo De Luca, president of the Campagna region, where Ischia is located, said houses in vulnerable areas had to be demolished because they were built without the necessary permits.
“People have to understand that there are some areas where you can’t live. There is no need 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 on Sunday and allocated 2 million euros (almost $2.1 million) to bail out and restore public services.
“The government expresses its closeness to the citizens, mayors and towns of the island of Ischia and thanks the rescue workers who are searching for the victims,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in a statement.