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Rome's Tiber river on flood alert

ROME (Reuters) - Rome braced for the Tiber river to follow the smaller Aniene in bursting its banks Friday, after days of rain and thunderstorms.

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

The Aniene river running through the city’s north east burst its banks Friday, forcing police to seal off nearby areas and block off a major road leading into Rome.

“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 between 1700 and 1900 GMT Friday, officials said. The area around the historic Ponte Milvio pedestrian bridge across the river was sealed off.

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

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Hundreds of people living near the Tiber will be evacuated, said Agostino Miozzo, the head of the civil protection agency monitoring the river.

“The river will continue to rise slowly and we expect to see maximum levels overnight and early tomorrow,” he said.

“There is no panic -- this is an emergency under control.”

Unions suspended a planned Friday transport strike in Rome to prevent further disruption to the city’s traffic situation.

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. More than 100 dogs perished after a kennel flooded.

Eight Boy Scouts were being rescued on Mt. Etna in Sicily after being stranded without food supplies.

Italian agricultural lobby group CIA said the rains caused damage worth 200 million euros to the agriculture sector, saying entire fields of cereal crops and fruits had been destroyed.

Additional reporting by Reuters Television, writing by Deepa Babington