Italy evacuates 15,000 from the paths of rampaging rivers

Associated Press

PIACENZA, Italy — Italy hurried more than 15,000 people from the paths of two raging rivers Tuesday as flood waters that wreaked death in Alpine towns bore down on the medieval villages and cities of the northern Italian plains.

The death toll in Italy and Switzerland rose to 25, with the mud-caked bodies of a 1-year-old Italian boy and a woman believed to be his mother among the latest uncovered. A total of 21 people in the two countries were missing and feared dead.

On Tuesday, emergency crews evacuated whole villages in the paths of the Po, Italy’s longest river, and the Ticino that feeds into it from the Alps.

The Po already had burst its banks at some points. By Tuesday night, the flood crest was passing the old trade town of Piacenza, home to columned Romanesque churches and a Botticelli painting.

The Po divides the rich agricultural regions of Lombardy and Emilia Romagna, emptying into the lagoons of Venice. Tuesday, it hit its highest level in at least a half-century; its height at Piacenza was the highest ever recorded there.

While there has been some flooding of churches, where much of Italy’s cultural patrimony is cached, the water generally has not yet threatened works of art, said Vincenzo Pandolfino of the Culture Ministry’s art protection squad. Damage to Italy’s countless masterpieces was not expected to near that suffered by Florence in a ruinous 1966 flood.

In both countries, however, authorities said overall damage would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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