Catania, Sicily floods: ‘Medicane’ tears through southern Italy, with more rain expected


Sicily’s President Nello Musumeci confirmed the deaths and said a third person was missing late on Tuesday, while the mayor of the city Catania urged residents to stay home if possible.

“We have been through two very difficult days. We have lived through dramatic hours,” mayor Salvo Pogliese said in a video posted to his Facebook page. He said the weather was “definitely better” on Wednesday, but warned the forecast for Thursday and Friday remained “particularly worrying.”

Red warnings have been issued for Wednesday and Thursday on the island of Sicily and the region containing the city of Catania, which has already been pummeled by adverse weather throughout the week.

The storm comes as global leaders prepare to gather in Rome, Italy’s capital, for a G20 summit. Climate concerns are high on the agenda at the event, which will be immediately followed by a critical COP26 meeting in Scotland.

The medicane — a hurricane-like storm system that formed over the Mediterranean Sea — has dumped one year’s worth of rain on the Linguaglossa region in the space of two days, according to climatological data in the nearby city of Catania.

The storm is forecast to linger around the area until the weekend, with more rain expected. Schools and non-essential shops and offices are ordered to stay closed until Friday in Catania.

Over 600 rescue operations have been carried out in Catania in the past day, the interior ministry said Wednesday in a press release.

“The event is not over. Now there is a moment of attenuation, but our weather models tell us it will be back. Complicated hours await us in this area. We expect a significant worsening from Thursday to Friday,” the head of civil protection Fabrizio Curcio said at a press conference in Catania.

Regional governor Nello Mosumeci described the situation as “very critical” and described the scenes seen across Catania and its province as “atrocious.”

“Roads have been turned into streams” and “countryside into lakes, entire isolated districts and hundreds of flooded houses, incalculable damage to buildings and crops: Eastern Sicily is experiencing a phenomenon that we fear, unfortunately, will be less and less sporadic, with tragic scenarios destined to repeat itself,” he said Tuesday on his official Facebook page.

Damage in Scordia, Sicily, after the storm passed through the region.

Medicanes occur around twice a year, usually between September and December.

This system is not expected to threaten the G20 talks in Rome, but adds further urgency to the ongoing effort of several countries to commit the world to tougher climate change targets.

Science shows that human-made climate change is making extreme weather events, including heavy rainfall, more frequent and intense. The climate crisis is also contributing to swings between drought and floods in many places, including parts of the United States, like California, as well as the Middle East and Africa.

As the Earth’s atmosphere gets warmer, it can hold more moisture, which is why the world is experiencing heavier bursts of rain that it historically has. But the climate crisis is also creating longer dry spells, or drought, which leaves land and soil so dry that it can’t absorb the rain as effectively as usual. This combination makes flooding more likely, and often more destructive.

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