In Italy floods, mud tsunami swallowed victims alive

·3-min read

Adriana Pianelli called out to her husband and son as they disappeared under a sea of mud in the underground carpark, during a deadly storm that devastated villages in central Italy.

"I saw them, I called Andrea! Giuseppe! But the water had risen so fast, and was so thick with mud, they had no chance," she said, the arms of her pink jumper pulled down over clenched fists.

Andrea, 25, had been nearly out of the garage when he turned back to help his father, 65-year old Giuseppe, who had slipped over. All three had gone out in the heavy rain to move their car to safety.

The father and son were just two of an estimated 10 people killed in the Marche region by the flash floods.

"It was like a tsunami. They were there, then they were gone," said Adriana, who had been waiting for them on higher ground, at the entrance to the garage.

Down the street, Pasquale Avallone said he had almost died when the waters gushing into his house rose in seconds up to his neck.

"The front door burst off its hinges and I was thrown up against the wall. I just managed to climb onto of a cupboard and there I waited, for death," he said.

- 'Lost everything' -

The warehouse worker, 30, choked back tears as he picked his son's dinosaur toys out of the mud and tossed them onto the nearest pile of ruined sofas, beds and tables lining the street in Pianello di Ostra.

"I didn't have much. Now I have nothing at all, nothing but a drowned parrot," he said as he stood bare-chested in shorts and wellington boots, his legs and hands caked in mud.

Villagers used brooms to sweep water out of their homes, or tried in vain to clean dirt off valuables.

Laura Marinelli, 33, grabbed her 18-month-old daughter and ran to neighbours upstairs as her ground-floor home near Ostra began to flood. The only thing she took with her was a pack of nappies.

"If it had happened much later we would have been asleep, and would likely have died," she said, as she pointed out the roof she'd climbed onto with her baby and husband as the waters kept rising.

"We've lost everything, all the photos, all the letters you can't replace," she told AFP, plastic pink toys floating in the submerged garden nearby.

The strong smell of sewage and petrol at the height of the flood lingered in Pianello as Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived for a lightening visit, and was heckled by a small group of locals.

"If the state doesn't hurry up with help, there'll be a revolution here," warned Avellone's brother-in-law Marco.

"They are quick to promise things when it's election season, but you can't trust any of them to actually do what's needed. To do whatever they can to prevent nightmares like this," he said.

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