* At least 17 dead after Cyclone Cleopatra hits
* PM Letta sets aside funds to deal with "national tragedy"
* Cash-strapped regions pressured by disasters
(Adds quotes, fresh details)
By James Mackenzie
ROME, Nov 19 At least 17 people have been killed
in flooding and hundreds made homeless after a cylone swept over
the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Italian authorities said
The government declared a state of emergency after Cyclone
Cleopatra dropped 450mm of rain in an hour and a half overnight,
causing rivers to burst their banks, sweeping away cars and
flooding homes across the island.
"This is a national tragedy," Prime Minister Enrico Letta
The declaration of a state of emergency will allow resources
to be freed up more quickly to reach devastated areas, with
swathes of the island under muddy flood waters that covered cars
and swamped houses.
The government also set aside 20 million euros ($27 million)
in immediate emergency funds to help the rescue and clean-up
The mayor of Olbia, the northeastern Sardinian town among
the worst-affected areas, said the sudden flooding had burst
"like a bomb" with the same amount of water falling in 90
minutes as falls in the city of Milan in six months.
Mayor Gianni Giovannelli said houses across the area had
been left half-submerged by the floods and rescuers were still
searching for possible victims.
"We've just found a dead child we had been searching all
night for," he told SkyTG24 television.
Beyond the immediate casualties, the disaster raised
questions about how well prepared Italy's cash-strapped local
governments, under increasing financial pressure after more than
two years or recession, are to deal with sudden emergencies.
"We're facing an exceptional event here which has put our
system of territorial planning and management into crisis," said
Antonello Frau, deputy head of the island's geological service.
"We really have to assess how we manage these situations,
which are becoming more frequent."
Flooding and landslides have been common in Italy, dominated
in many areas by rugged mountain ranges.
However Legambiente, Italy's main environmental group, said
the disaster showed there was an urgent need to step up measures
to handle floods and other disasters, a call backed by the
national geological council.
It said more than 6 million Italians faced a potential risk
from flooding but it said the risk had been made worse by
reckless building, particularly in coastal areas.
"This is not just the fault of climate change," the
association's president, Gian Vito Graziano, said in a
The Red Cross said hundreds of people had been forced out of
their homes and into temporary shelters set up in sports halls
and other centres. Several bridges were swept away in Olbia and
in the region near the central town of Nuoro.
"The situation is tragic," regional governor Ugo Cappellacci
told SkyTG24 television. "The hotels in Olbia are full of people
who have had to escape, but there are thousands who have damage
to their homes."
($1 = 0.7394 euros)
(Additional reporting by Naomi O'Leary and Roberto Landucci;
Editing by Angus MacSwan)