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Italy hit by wildfires, heat and hail

Datetime: 2023-07-27 09:24:38

ROME - The southern Italian island of Sicily was ravaged by fires Tuesday. Meanwhile, storms and hail have battered the northern part of Italy.

The airport in the Sicilian capital of Palermo was closed to air traffic on Monday and early Tuesday, as smoke from a nearby blaze had limited visibility in the area. Officials said the airport reopened later on Tuesday, although the number of flights was severely reduced.

Catania Airport, Sicily's other main air hub, was closed last week due to a fire in one of the terminals. As of Tuesday, it is also operating at a fraction of full capacity.

In total, there were over 50 major wildfires across Sicily, with Italian news sites showing images of grasslands and hillsides on fire. The 2,500-year-old Greek-built Segesta Temple in northwest Sicily, one of the world's best-preserved Doric temples, has also been threatened by fires.

On Tuesday, Palermo's Cervello hospital was evacuated, and at least 1,500 residents of the city were forced to leave their homes. The widespread nature of the fires is making it difficult for authorities to know where to evacuate people, according to media reports.

The partial closure of the island's two main airports has limited access to the Italian mainland for tourists, as well as the island's population of 5 million residents.

Most of south and central Italy was suffering from persistent scorching temperatures on Tuesday. The long heatwave has dried out the land in Sicily, leading to fires.

High temperatures are also having a significant impact in other parts of the country. At least three people have died from heat-related issues in and around Rome since Sunday. In Calabria, another southern region, a 98-year-old man died when his house was engulfed by flames.

Antonello Fiore, president of the Italian Society of Environmental Geology, said the fires in the southern part of the country were causing "irreparable damage" to ecosystems.

While the southern two-thirds of Italy struggled under the oppressive heat, most of the northern area was pelted by thunderstorms and over-sized hail.

Media reports said the emergency services in Milan had responded to more than 200 requests for help related to flooding, fallen trees, and damage to cars and homes, since a severe storm hit the city late Monday.

Elsewhere in Lombardy, a 16-year-old girl was killed when storms toppled a tree which fell on the tent where she was sleeping during a camping trip.

On Monday, an aircraft that took off from Milan for New York was seriously damaged by hail, and had to be rerouted to Rome for an emergency landing.

Lombardy Regional President Attilio Fontana formally requested a state of emergency should be declared in the region on Tuesday, which will provide access to emergency funds and expedited powers to deal with the situation.

Other parts of the north, including the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piedmont, and Veneto were also hit hard by storms.

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