The dramatic consequences of heavy rainfall and flooding in a densely populated area have been shown in a frightening way since Wednesday morning in northern Italy in the Emilia Romagna region: Due to sudden flooding, the number of deaths had risen to nine people by Wednesday evening; 21 rivers have burst their banks and more than 30 municipalities have been flooded.

Christian Schubert

Economic correspondent for Italy and Greece.

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"20,000 people still need to be evacuated," reported the Prefect of Ravenna, Castrese De Rosa. About half as many had already been taken to safe places by Wednesday evening. "At least it has stopped raining, but the flood water continues to rise," said De Rosa, because the pressure from the rivers is still high. The authorities called on people who are still in their homes to stay only on the higher floors. They should take themselves to safety and not think about saving their belongings, said the mayor of Forlì, Gian Luca Zattini. On Facebook, he wrote of a situation that resembled "the end of the world".

In many places, the danger did not come directly from the water, but from the earth. Around 250 landslides were counted. Near Cesena, a man was swept away by the landslides while he was in his garden.

"In a day and a half, it rained practically as much as usual in three months," reported meteorologist Edoardo Ferrara from the Italian weather portal "3bMeteo". An unusually strong cyclone in the Mediterranean region is considered to be the trigger of the heavy rainfall. Within 36 hours, more than 120 millimeters of rain fell between Bologna and the plain of Romagna - more than twice the amount that should fall in the entire month of May. One millimeter of precipitation is equal to one liter per square meter. In the Apennines, peak values of more than 200 millimeters were measured. Cities such as Imola, Faenza, Cesena and Forlì are particularly affected. The catastrophe is not yet over: At least until the weekend, you have to expect further rainfall and thunderstorms in large parts of Italy, reports the weather service. "Atmospheric instability" could last throughout May.

Meanwhile, dramatic images are emerging from the affected areas. In the municipality of Castrocaro Terme, in the province of Forlì-Cesena, two newborns had to be rescued by helicopter. Elderly people were carried on the shoulders of helpers, who were literally up to their necks in water. In Cesena, people were forced to climb onto the rooftops to wait for rescue by helicopter. In Faenza, the water covered the city center; there had already been flooding on 3 May.

Where the water drained, dense layers of mud remained on the roads, as well as overturned cars and broken asphalt. On social networks, there were more and more calls for help from people who wanted to be evacuated. Bridges collapsed, many cars were completely flooded.

In Bologna and other affected municipalities, schools remained closed on Wednesday. The A14 motorway on the Adriatic Sea was closed in places. In the afternoon, the section between Bologna San Lazzaro and the junction at Ravenna in the direction of Ancona was reopened. Other sections remained closed, causing long traffic jams. Landslides also blocked a number of roads. Many mayors called for people to refrain from changing locations and travelling.

The fact that the Formula 1 race of the Imola Grand Prix was cancelled came as no surprise to anyone. The president of the Emilia-Romagna region, Stefano Bonaccini, compared the flood disaster to a series of earthquakes that shook the region eleven years ago. "In some large areas, up to 24 millimeters of water have fallen in the last 300 hours," he reported – an amount that has never been measured in this area before.

The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, had called him in the morning to promise his solidarity and the necessary support measures to the affected population. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who is attending the G-7 summit in Japan, is in permanent contact with her Secretary of State Alfredo Mantovano and the relevant ministers, it was said at the seat of government of Palazzo Chigi. The government has scheduled a cabinet meeting for next Tuesday to deal with the floods.