Fifteen more people were taking shelter in the Vievola train station after the operation to rescue them was put off until daylight.
The spokesman for Italy’s firefighters, Luca Cari, said a search was ongoing for a missing shepherd who was pulled into flood waters on Col de Tende. His brother managed to grab onto a tree and was saved, while authorities were searching on the French side for the shepherd.
The situation at the tunnel on the high mountain pass was complicated by the fact that French emergency responders cannot access their side due to flood damage, Cari said.
Unrelenting rainfall overnight hit levels not seen since 1958 in northern Italy’s Piedmont region, where as much as 630 millimetres of rain fell in a 24-hour period, according to the Italian civil protection agency.
Hundreds of rescue operations were carried out. Eleven campers were saved in Vercelli province, where floodwaters hit 20-year highs. And Alpine rescue squads have evacuated by foot seven people who were in houses cut off by flooding at Terme di Valdieri; some had to be carried on stretchers due to the muddy conditions and accumulation of detritus.
On the other side of the border, in south-eastern France, almost a year’s average rainfall fell in less than 12 hours in the mountainous area surrounding the city of Nice. Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said over 100 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in the area.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who flew over the area in an helicopter, confirmed that at least eight people were missing in France, including two firefighters whose vehicle was carried away by water when a road collapsed.
“I cannot hide our grave concern on the definitive toll,” Castex said.
Many worried families had not heard from their relatives due to cellphone services being cut off in the area.
“As I speak, priority goes to searching for victims, providing supplies and accommodation for the people affected, and restoring communications,” the Prime Minister said.
Rescue efforts included 871 personnel working on the ground, as well as military helicopters and troops helping with emergency assistance, Castex said.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday expressed gratitude toward rescuers on Twitter. “Together we will get through this,” he said.
France’s national weather agency, Meteo France, said that up to 500 millimetres of rain were recorded in some areas, the equivalent of almost one year of average rainfall.
Meteo France issued a danger alert on Friday and all schools in the region had been closed. Local authorities urged people to stay at home.
In central Switzerland, flooding along the Reuss River caused the closure of a stretch of the A2 highway – a major trans-Alpine route. Further east, 13 residents were evacuated from their homes in the town of Diesbach because of flooding.
In Venice, a long-delayed flood barrier successfully protected the lagoon city from a high tide for the first time on Saturday, bringing relief and smiles following years of repeated inundations.
“Today, everything is dry. We stopped the sea,” city mayor Luigi Brugnaro told reporters after raising a glass in celebration with some of the engineers and officials responsible for the multi-billion euro project known as Mose.
“Lots of bad things have happened here, but now something wonderful has happened,” he said.
The network of 78 bright yellow barriers that guard the entrance to the delicate Venetian lagoon lifted from the sea bed as the tide, driven by strong winds and rain, started to climb.
City officials had forecast a tide of 130 centmetres, well below the devastating 187 centimetre tide that battered Venice last November, but enough to leave low-lying areas deep under water.
Expecting the worst, workmen had laid out raised walkways in especially vulnerable places, including the often packed St. Mark’s Square. In the event, the tide only amounted to 70 centimetres, leaving the city’s piazzas and pathways unscathed.
“Today is an important day, an historic day because we should have been full of water by now and instead we are dry,” said Massimo Milanese, manager of the Lavena Cafe in St. Mark’s Square.
AP, with Reuters