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Rome on alert for Tiber breaking its banks

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ROME (Reuters) - Officials put Rome on a state of alert for the Tiber breaking its banks Friday, after days of unrelenting rain and thunderstorms that the mayor likened to an “earthquake” striking the Italian capital.

Rome’s mayor has already declared a state of emergency after severe storms early Thursday flooded underpasses, disrupted train and flight services and led to the death of one person.

“We’ve been hit by a wave of exceptionally bad weather that has affected all of Italy,” Mayor Gianni Alemanno told La Repubblica newspaper when asked why a torrential downpour was enough to bring the Italian capital to its knees.

“In Rome, it has been like an earthquake, with more rain in one night than normally comes down in all of December.

The Tiber, on whose banks Rome was founded, is expected to overflow its banks Friday afternoon, officials said. The area around a historic pedestrian bridge across the river was sealed off, with evacuations of neighboring areas expected later.

The river used to flood regularly until high stone embankments were built in the 19th century.

After pleading by city officials, unions suspended a planned transport strike Friday in Rome.

Almost all of Italy has been suffering bad weather in recent days, with heavy snowfall blanketing the north and strong winds and downpours pelting the south.

Schools were shut in some southern cities Friday. A small bridge collapsed in the southern province of Calabria, killing a man, local reports said. Eight Boy Scouts were being rescued on Mt. Etna in Sicily after being stranded without food supplies.

Writing by Deepa Babington