Storms bring disaster to famous Italian vineyards

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The Independent Online

The grape harvest in some of Italy's most famous wine regions is at risk after hailstorms wreaked havoc across the agricultural north of the country.

The grape harvest in some of Italy's most famous wine regions is at risk after hailstorms wreaked havoc across the agricultural north of the country.

Damage from the storms last weekend is estimated at €300m to €400m (£190m to £250m) and the government is said to be ready to declare a state of disaster. Hailstones weighing up 1.5lbs (680 grams) and as big as cricket balls left at least 20 people needing hospital treatment for head injuries in northern and central Italy. One person was seriously injured.

The storms, accompanied by winds that reached speeds of more than 80mph, felled olive trees and devastated vineyards. Whirlwinds were reported near Ancona.

About four inches of rain fell in parts of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, and parts of the city of Udine in the north-east were flooded.

Weather conditions across Italy have now improved, but forecasters are warning of more storms to come. A couple of days of calm are predicted, but violent weather is expected to return at the weekend, starting in the north-west and moving south down the peninsula. Record numbers of people are reported to be tuning into weather forecasts.

A total of nine regions have suffered severe damage to nurseries, greenhouses and orchards. Crops of olives, peaches, apricots, maize, tobacco, sunflowers, rice, kiwis, radicchio and tomatoes have all suffered, but by far the worst hit has been the wine industry.

Famous names have taken a beating, including the vineyards of Valpolicella and Bardolino in Verona, and Franciacorta in Lombardy. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture estimates that about 10,000 acres of prime vineyards have been damaged between Franciacorta and Valpolicella. In Valpolicella, local authorities estimated that about 870 acres out of a total 12,000 acres had been seriously damaged.

With vines shredded, damage in some regions is said to be so severe that as well as destroying this year's vintage, next year's crop has also been jeopardised.

CIA, the Italian farmers' confederation, said it expected the cost of the storms to reach €400m. Agriculture organisations are pushing the government to open up its fund for natural disasters, and yesterday ministers looked ready to agree. Giovanni Alemanno, the Minister of Agriculture told the Italian daily La Repubblica: "The money to cope with the emergency has to be found. It is the duty of the state."

The freak weather in northern Italy comes as Sicily continues to suffer the effects of prolonged drought, with rainfall at its lowest level in almost 70 years. Sicilians have been protesting for months at water shortages. The government has set aside €500m to deal with the problem. Thirty farmers were arrested yesterday for diverting a river so that it irrigated only their land.

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