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Shocked Italy mourns flood victims as death toll rises to 15

A big emergency package has been announced a week after a powerful storm caused Italy's worst flooding in a century.

(CN) — Italy observed a national day of mourning on Wednesday for the devastating flooding in northern Italy that exposed the country's vulnerability to the ravages of climate change.

The death toll from a powerful storm that caused widespread flooding and landslides rose to 15 on Wednesday after divers discovered the body of a 68-year-old man who was reportedly dragged away by floodwaters a week ago.

It was Italy's worst flooding in a century and many areas remained underwater Wednesday, a week after torrential rains inundated Emilia-Romagna and Marche. The flooding likely was made worse by months of severe drought which compacted soil and made it less capable of absorbing water, scientists say. Many areas saw a half year's amount of rain dumped in 36 hours.

The tropical-like rainfall left many towns and cities flooded by overflowing rivers, blocked highways and railways, and triggered numerous landslides. Hundreds and even thousands of active landslides remained a risk, a geologist told ANSA, an Italian news agency.

On Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced 2 billion euros (about $2.1 billion) in recovery aid for the hard-hit regions. A final damage estimate has not been calculated, though officials say it could reach at least 5 billion euros (about $5.4 billion).

About 20,000 people remained unable to return to their homes, while waters had receded enough in places to allow about 30,000 others to go back home. Flood victims are receiving various forms of help, such as relief payments, the suspension of mortgage payments and temporary housing.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was expected to tour the devastated region on Thursday. Stefano Bonaccini, the president of Emilia-Romagna, said he hoped the EU would send more aid.

The catastrophe has spurred Italy to look at its vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events.

Bonaccini said Italy has not done enough since the end of World War II to prepare for catastrophes. He said the region needs to rebuild in such a way as to avoid future flooding.

Nello Musumeci, the minister of civil protection, said Italy must take prevention seriously and develop plans to reduce the risk from future disasters.

“We must make securing the national territory the priority of the political government agenda of this executive and all its ramifications across the territory,” Musumeci said, as reported by ANSA, at a news briefing Wednesday.

He said Italy “is a nation more inclined to rebuild than to prevent. Events like the one in Emilia-Romagna cannot be predicted, but the disastrous effects they produce can be reduced.”

According to Musumeci, almost 94% of Italy is at risk from landslides and flooding.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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