3 dead as Sicily counts losses from ‘devastating’ fires

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Fires were still burning on the hills around Palermo today. (AP pic)

ROME: Italy’s southern island of Sicily has been devastated by wildfires that have killed three elderly people, its regional president said, as a heat wave and severe storms further north took a heavy toll.

The charred bodies of a couple in their 70s were found in their burnt-out home on the outskirts of Palermo, the regional capital, according to Italian media reports.

Another woman in her late 80s died in the Palermo province after an ambulance was unable to reach her home due to fires in the area.

In an overnight message on Facebook, Sicilian president Renato Schifani said “scorching heat and unprecedented devastating fires” had turned yesterday into “one of the most difficult days in decades”.

Italian firefighters said they battled nearly 1,400 fires between Sunday and yesterday, including 650 in Sicily and 390 in Calabria, the southern mainland region where a bedridden 98-year-old man was killed as fire consumed his home.

Fires were still burning on the hills around Palermo today, with Canadair planes back in operation to try to douse the flames.

Large areas of the Mediterranean have been sweltering under an intense summer heat wave yesterday, causing deadly blazes across the region.

Tourism fears

Sicily is a major tourist destination but a fire inside a terminal building last week caused the near-total closure of its biggest airport in Catania on the east of the island.

Palermo airport was also closed for a few hours yesterday because of a wildfire nearby.

“I hope that tourist flows in the areas affected by the fires will not suffer losses,” civil protection minister Nello Musumeci, a Sicilian, told the La Stampa newspaper.

“The risk … is there and it is understandable”.

The government was set to meet in Rome later today to declare a state of emergency in regions affected by natural disasters and introduce a special furlough scheme for workers most exposed to the heat wave.

While Italy’s south is battling with wildfires, the north of the country is reeling from severe storms that yesterday killed two people, including a 16-year-old girl scout crushed by a falling tree.

In a sign that temperatures were finally easing, only two cities – Catania in Sicily and Bari in southern Puglia – were on a government heat wave ‘red alert’ list for today, down from 17 the previous day.

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