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State of emergency declared in Tuscany after severe flooding

The Italian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the north-western corner of Tuscany, where flash floods have transformed mountain valleys into terrifying rivers of mud, killing at least 12 people and forcing a mass search for two dozen others.

In the Versilia valley, in the foothills of the Appenines north of Lucca, rescuers backed up by 18 helicopters continued to pick through the wreckage of mountain villages and build makeshift river walls to prevent further damage. One five-year-old child who had gone missing in the devastated village of Cardoso was found washed up dead on the coast at Portovenere more than 20km away.

Almost 20in of rain fell on the area in just four hours on Wednesday, catching locals and meteorological experts completely off guard in a rugged, relatively sparsely populated corner of the country. As government ministers inspected the damage yesterday, some villages were still cut off, without drinking water or utilities, their inhabitants plucked to safety by air. On the coast, the rains cut off both the main Genoa-Pisa railway and the Via Aurelia, one of the area's main transport routes. Neither was expected to reopen until early next week. It was the worst flood to hit Italy since November 1994, when 59 people died in Piedmont in the north-west.