Flash flood kills at least 10 at Italian campsite

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The Independent Online

A flash flood swept away a camping ground in Italy early yesterday, leaving at least 10 people dead and 12 missing.

A flash flood swept away a camping ground in Italy early yesterday, leaving at least 10 people dead and 12 missing.

The river Beltrame broke its banks some 500 yards above the coastal town of Soverato, in Calabria, creating a torrent that overturned caravans, buried cars and left wooden cabins wedged in the branches of the few trees left standing.

A group of 17 disabled people with 32 family members and volunteers were holidaying in Le Giare camping ground when the wall of mud, water and debris struck at dawn. One volunteer, identified only as Cesare, said: "We had been having a farewell party, the disabled people and we volunteers, and all went off to bed after 3am.

"Just before 5am I was awakened by anguished screams. We climbed up on top of the bungalow and tried to help people to safety. There was no light, we couldn't see, we didn't know what was happening."

The camping ground, which dates from the 1960s, had planning permission but local newspapers, environmentalists and even tourists had often complained about its safety, given its proximity to the river, and it had been the subject of several judicial inquiries. The trip's organisers, the Catholic charity UNITALSI, said they had chosen the site because there were no architectural barriers and many of their guests were in wheelchairs.

Among the dead was a 17-year-old boy, Rosario Russo, who had helped his wheelchair-bound father to safety before going out to seek help.

Another victim was a 52-year-old man from Catanzaro who used a wheelchair because of disabilities caused by Alzheimer's disease.

Rescuers were slow to arrive at the camping ground because communications to the town had been virtually severed after three days of heavy rain. Bad weather continued to hamper rescue efforts yesterday. Some bodies had been washed to the beach hundreds of yards away.

Many towns along the Ionian coast of Calabria are cut off because mudslides and floods have interrupted rail, road and even telephone services and several hundred families have been evacuated.

The Under-Secretary for Civil Protection, Franco Barberi, said he wanted to know why a government decree to identify risk areas after the Sarno disaster of May 1998 - when 147 people were killed and 1600 left homeless in landslides - had not been applied in Soverato.