(Al Jazeera) At least seven people, including a newborn and two children, have been killed on the southern Italian island of Ischia after a landslide caused by torrential rain devastated a small town, according to a local official.
Five people were still missing, Naples Prefect Claudio Palomba told a news conference on Sunday.
Dozens of emergency workers rushed to the resort island while rescue divers searched the waters off the coast, he said.
The huge landslide was triggered before dawn on Saturday by exceptional rainfall and sent a mass of mud and debris hurtling through the port town of Casamicciola Terme.
Photographs and aerial video footage showed buildings smashed by the landslide and several cars pushed into the sea by what one resident described as “a waterfall of water and mud”.
The island received 126mm (nearly five inches) of rain in six hours, the heaviest rainfall in 20 years, according to officials.
Experts said the disaster was exacerbated by building in areas of high risk on the mountainous island, which is also in a seismically active zone. Two people were killed in 2017 when a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck Casamicciola Terme and Lacco Ameno.
Italian government earmarks aid
Densely populated, Ischia is a volcanic island which lies some 30km (19 miles) from Naples, Italy. It draws visitors to its thermal baths and picturesque coastline.
Episodes of heavy rainfall are becoming more common and more intense as a result of climate change, experts say, exacerbating hydrogeological risks in many parts of Italy.
Statistics show Ischia has many houses built illegally, putting inhabitants at permanent risk from flooding and earthquakes, which have often hit the hilly island over the past years.
The fatal landslide has reignited political controversy over pardons for unlawful buildings granted in recent decades and the reluctance of some politicians to address the issue.
“People must understand that they can’t live in some areas and buildings in risky areas must be torn down,” Campania Governor Vincenzo De Luca told public broadcaster RAI on Sunday.
Italy’s new right-wing government led by Giorgia Meloni held a cabinet meeting on Sunday and issued a decree aimed at providing swift help to people in need following the disaster, including some 230 people who were evacuated.
The decree earmarked an initial aid package of 2 million euros ($2.08 million) and envisaged a suspension of tax payments for residents until the end of the year.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, expressed his closeness to the people of Ischia during the traditional Sunday blessing in St Peter’s Square.
“I am praying for the victims, for those who are suffering and for those who are involved in the rescue,” he said.