SARNO, Italy (AP) — Torrents of mud and debris roared through the narrow streets of southern Italy on Wednesday, killing at least 25 people and engulfing hundreds of homes. More than 70 other people were feared buried alive.
After two days of incessant rain, the fast-flowing streams burst with a ferocious intensity into towns in the heavily populated area south of Naples. The mud avalanches tore apart houses and bridges and swallowed cars in a matter of minutes.
Italy declared a state of emergency, promising $29 million in immediate aid and calling out the army to help cope with the disaster as thousands of residents fled to higher ground.
At least 1,800 people were left homeless in a 40-mile swath from Naples to Salerno, chief civil protection officer Andrea Todisco said.
Scores of firefighters and emergency workers used cranes and bulldozers to navigate hip-deep muck Wednesday, rescuing at least 160 people and searching for the missing.
Todisco, the civil protection chief, said many homes had been illegally built too close to rivers or in areas prone to landslides, aggravating the damage. Construction without permits is rampant in southern Italy.
He also blamed some deaths on people who refused to leave their homes.
However, many residents complained that rescue efforts were too slow and uncoordinated.