A survivor of a weekend landslide that killed eight people and left four missing on the Italian resort island of Ischia described Tuesday the horror of awakening to a “thunderous roar” as the mass of loosened earth approached.
Firefighters dug out buried homes with shovels just below tree line on Mount Epomeo while searching for people still missing, including the parents of three siblings, ages 5-15, who were confirmed as being among the dead. The dead also included a 3-week-old boy and his parents.
The landslide has so far displaced about 270 people from their homes in the port town of Casamicciola. Triggered by exceptional rainfall, the slide before dawn on Saturday filled homes with mud, water and debris, and pushed vehicles down into the sea.
Authorities warned that more residents may need to be evacuated if rain returns to the island in the coming days, as forecast.
Witness accounts suggest the landslide was loud enough to alert sleeping residents of the impending danger.
The first victim recovered, 31-year-old Eleonora Sirabella called her father, living nearby in Lacco Ameno, to ask for help, but a river of mud blocked him from reaching her, Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica reported.
One resident told Italian state broadcaster RAI that she found mud and water in the hallway of her home, and that she and her husband had to climb out of the bedroom window, and use their cellphones to light the way through the darkness and pouring rain.
“We had to throw ourselves down into abandoned land,’’ the woman, who was not identified, told RAI radio. “I fell. I said I won’t make it anymore. I felt dead. I heard from behind a thunderous roar that was coming down. He grabbed me and said, ‘Run, run.’ I am terrorized.”
A dog rescued Monday after 72 hours inside an overturned car belonged to a family with an infant boy confirmed among the dead, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.
Naples prosecutors were investigating claims by a former mayor that he had warned of a landslide risk based on the weather forecast four days before the disaster, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
Environmental experts say that unauthorized building and excessive construction were major contributors to the landslide. They cited a high incidence of requests under successive government amnesties since 1985 to gain official approval for structures that in some way violated building codes.
Geologists said the pattern of the landslide also indicated construction in areas that should have been left free for runoff.
The government’s civil protection minister, Nello Musumeci, said the “tragedy of Ischia” should unite political forces to come up with a plan to counter illegal construction throughout the country.
“Illegal buildings could be confiscated and added to the domain of local governments or the state,’’ Musumeci told Sky TG24.
The mayors of the island’s six towns pushed back against allegations that permissive administrations allowed unbridled overbuilding.
The mayor of Forio, Francesco Del Deo, told television channel Sky TG24 that the area hardest hit by the landslide was in a zone where construction was permitted. He said the 27,000 requests over four decades to legalize work carried out without proper permits in many cases included multiple requests for the same property, or even repeated requests for the same work.
“There are not 27,000 illegal properties on the island,” he said, adding: “Every time they make it seem like this is the island of illegality, but that is not correlated to what happened.”
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