At least nine people have died in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy following heavy rainfall that caused widespread flooding and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Nearly two dozen rivers in the region burst their banks, submerging neighborhoods and farmland. The region’s Civil Protection Agency issued a red weather alert for the region on Monday, while the Italian Transport Minister Matteo Salvini urged that the Imola Grand Prix, scheduled for the upcoming weekend, be postponed. Formula One and local organizers subsequently cancelled the event, citing the need to guarantee safety in light of the situation across the region.
The Imola circuit has a river flowing alongside it and while the paddock remained free of flooding, water levels were rising and surrounding areas, including car parks and some access roads, were waterlogged.
Last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix drew a crowd of 129,000, and the decision to cancel this year’s event comes amid a calendar already affected by COVID-19 and reduced to 22 races after China was cancelled in January. Ferrari joined other teams in supporting the cancellation of the race, stating that the safety of people living and working in the affected areas was the main priority at the moment. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton also expressed his support, stating that this was “definitely the right decision.”
The race was scheduled to be the first triple header of the season, with Monaco and Spain following on successive weekends.
The devastation across the region is extensive, with nearly 50 centimetres of rain falling within 36 hours in some areas, equivalent to around half the normal annual rainfall. Thousands of farms have been affected, with Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida noting that the extent of the damage would need to be quantified once the water had receded. Emergency services, the armed forces, and over 1,000 volunteers have been mobilized to assist with rescue efforts and to evacuate people.
The flooding has caused mudslides and severely disrupted transportation, with many roads closed or rendered impassable. The situation in Forli, southeast of the regional capital Bologna, has been described as “the end of the world” by the mayor, Gian Luca Zattini.
The region had already been hit by heavy rain two weeks ago, causing floods that left two dead. This time, the rains have caused even more extensive damage, with over 20 million euros in emergency funds being unlocked for the area in addition to the 10 million awarded after the previous flooding.