“All citizens have been ordered not to leave their homes and go to higher ground,” one hard-hit city wrote in an all-caps bulletin on Facebook due to high water levels.
The event is yet another example of extreme weather, despite decades of deadly flooding in Italy, followed by an unprecedented drought that has devastated lakes and rivers and crops. Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy’s civil protection department, said the area flooded in a few hours was “a third of the rain you normally get in a year”.
“There were really scary moments with the extraordinary amount of water,” Curcio said.
A spokesman for the Department of Civil Defense said the area had been hit by 400 millimeters, or about 15.75 inches, of rain.
While it’s difficult to link any event to climate change, experts say moments of extreme weather are becoming more common – including in Italy, which has seen melting alpine glaciers, summer wildfires and rising seas in coastal cities.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who visited the flood-hit area, said flood risks had become an “emergency with climate change” and that prevention measures, including infrastructure investment, would be needed.
“It also means tackling climate change,” Draghi said.
Flooding spread across the Marche region on Friday, from the inland mountains to the Adriatic coast. Some mayors of hard-hit cities noted that there was no indication that such a serious event was imminent.
“[There was] “Only a yellow warning from civil protection for wind and rain,” Maurizio Graci, the mayor of Sassoferrato, told Italian radio. “Nothing could have predicted such a disaster.”
Photographs taken on Friday showed people beginning to clean up, wading through mud, holding shovels and drying their belongings.
Francesco Acquaroli, head of the Marche region, wrote on his verified Facebook page that he had spoken with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Draghi, who offered support for “every need”.
“The pain about what happened is deep,” Acroly wrote.