Flood in campground for disabled kills at least ten in southern Italy

SOVERATO, Italy - The rain-swollen waters of a stream swept through a campground filled with disabled campers in the southern region of Calabria before dawn Sunday, killing at least 10 people and injuring dozens as they slept, authorities reported.

Interior Minister Enzo Bianco, who arrived in Calabria in the evening, told reporters that 10 people had died and five were missing at the Le Giare campground near the seaside town of Soverato.

The muddy waters destroyed the campground's guest register, complicating the task of accounting for the living, the dead and the missing.

The floodwaters turned the campground, where disabled campers from Calabria and their volunteer aides have gone every summer for seven years, into a sea of mud, flipping over cars, shoving trailers into trees and smashing bungalows.

One of the first victims to be identified was that of 52-year-old man with Alzheimer's disease, the Italian news agency ANSA said. Organizers of the camping trip said the man was the only disabled person among the victims.

One of the dead was 17-year-old Rosario Russo, who was carried hundreds of yards by the raging muddy waters after he helped safely move his father, who uses a wheelchair, to higher ground, ANSA said. Rescuers removed the boy's body from the tangled branches of an uprooted tree.

''We realized it was hell at 10 minutes to 5,'' Cesare Sforza Rotundo, one of the volunteers told ANSA after being discharged from a hospital. ''I didn't realize anything, I only heard agonizing screams.''

Police with dogs searched the flattened campground for possible victims under the mud, and later floodlights were turned on so rescue efforts could continue after nightfall.

Organizers of the camping trip said that it was difficult to say exactly how many people were at the site when the flood struck because some families on Saturday started bringing relatives home because of the bad weather.

Civil defense officials said 44 people were taken to hospitals. Most of the injured were suffering from exposure to the cold water.

RAI said local newspapers for years had run stories questioning the wisdom of a campground right next to a stream. Magistrates began investigating to see if any laws were violated in running the campground at that location, RAI said.

''It shouldn't have been allowed,'' the government's undersecretary for civil defense, Franco Barberi, said of the campground's placement.

Farther up the stream, a 17-year-old shepherd was stranded for hours on a rock in the middle of the rushing water, said Luigi Bigagnoli, a civil defense official in Catanzaro. Stormy weather hampered efforts to pluck him to safety with a helicopter, but rescuers finally succeeded.

Elsewhere in Calabria, the body of a man, apparently the victim of the bad weather, was found along a beach, Italian news reports said.

After weeks of intense heat and practically no rain, storms started pounding much of southern Italy on Friday, isolating dozens of hamlets near the sea.

About a hundred houses were evacuated in the seaside town of Roccella Jonica.


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