Flash flooding in the Calabria region of southern Italy has left at least 10 hikers dead, while others may be missing, officials said. The hikers were hit by a sudden swell in a narrow gorge, resulting from heavy rains upstream.
The civil protection department said 23 people were rescued following the Aug. 20 flooding in Raganello Creek, part of the Pollino National Park; many of them were hospitalized.
Images carried on television show rescuers climbing down steep rocks to try to rescue the hikers from the devastating scene. The tragedy in the popular tourist spot is thought to have involved 36 hikers.
The death toll was revised down to 10 from 11, a number announced erroneously by the civil protection agency earlier on Aug. 21, according to officials.
“It is really difficult terrain, filled with obstacles because of the [geological] formation of the area,” said Eugenio Facciolla, the chief prosecutor of the provincial capital, Cosenza.
He said rescuers working under spotlights were trying to locate areas where some people may have survived, by ending up on small patches of shore or tiny islands in the creek.
‘A Sudden Avalanche’
The nationalities of those who have died and were injured weren’t known immediately, but some people caught up in the devastation have spoken to local reporters.
“A sudden avalanche of water came in. We did not have time to do anything, I was really lucky, incredible,” a Dutch tourist told local media. “I’m really speechless and I cry for the people who could not be saved.”
The main square in Civita, the closest town to the gorge, has become a center for aiding those caught up in the flood.
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on a heartbreaking scene in the town, in which a woman shouted through tears: “Among the dead, there is a man without hair? … If there’s a man without hair, tell me, it’s my husband.”
According to the newspaper, another woman told a rescuer she had heard a roar, and then water had come and swept people away.
“I managed to move and cling to a tree, but I saw bodies being dragged away with a crazy violence,” she said.
Those who were injured include an 8-year-old girl, who was found suffering from hypothermia, according to the Italian newspaper Repubblica. The girl, identified only as Chiara by the newspaper, was taken to a hospital in Cosenza.
“I will never forget that tremor and her hand that touched ours while we hoisted her on board,” her rescuer, Pasquale Gagliardi, said in a Facebook post.
“This gorge filled up with water in a really short space of time and these people were catapulted out like bullets. They ended up some three kilometers (two miles) down the valley,” said Carlo Tansi, head of the civil protection department in Calabria.
Tansi said the gorge was only about four meters (13 feet) wide in some places, increasing the speed of the water and making the rescue more difficult.
He said that the rescue operations continued throughout the night.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into the tragedy.
Last week, a bridge collapsed in the Northern Italian city of Genoa, killing 43 people.
Reuters contributed to this report.