Italy declares flood emergency, at least three dead

A road sign is submerged by the Tiber river in downtown Rome November 28, 2005.

TURIN, Italy (Reuters) - Italy declared an emergency in the northwest of the country on Friday after torrential rainfall caused floods and landslides that have killed at least three people and are putting crops at risk.

“We are still in the middle of a crisis and will be so for the next 24 hours,” Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection service told reporters after an emergency meeting in Turin where the river Po has been at dangerously high levels.

The Turin region of Piedmont and the mountainous Val d’Aosta were put under a “state of emergency” by the government -- a status which allows for extra funds and special measures to be taken to protect lives and infrastructure.

The Po, Italy’s longest river which flows across the north of Italy, and its tributary the Dora remain at serious risk of further flooding, the Civil Protection service said.

The heavy rainfall caused a landslide in an Alpine village near the French border where witnesses spoke to media of a five-meter (16 ft) high wall of mud engulfing a house. Three bodies have been recovered and a 3-year old girl is missing.

The floods were also a risk to crops, the Italian Farmers Confederation (CIA) said. “The torrential rain and the Po and the Dora breaking their banks have meant many wheat fields are flooded and the harvest could be lost,” it said in a statement.

Environmental group WWF Italia said too much construction along the rivers was to blame. The Po valley is not only Italy’s most fertile farming area, it is also its most industrially developed.

“There has been too much building, concreting-over and canalization along our rivers with devastating consequences that happen as soon as rains start,” said WWF’s Michele Candotti.

Writing by Robin Pomeroy