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Italy

S.O.S. By Fax Blamed For Death Toll In Italy's Cyclone

Cyclone Cleopatra killed 16, including four children
Cyclone Cleopatra killed 16, including four children
Julie Farrar

OLBIA — Twelve hours notice. Forty-four centimeters of rain in 90 minutes. Sixteen dead, including four children. And, now, a fax alert. The blame game has begun in Sardinia after the tragic Cyclone Cleopatra hit the island earlier this week.

Antonio Sanò, head of the weather website ilmeteo.it, said that Monday’s storm had been forecast as early as last Thursday, and that the alarm had been raised too late, writes Corriere della Sera.

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Off the coast of Sardinia. Photo via Twitter.

The mayors on the island say that a fax came through with the warning on Sunday afternoon, but as the municipal offices were all closed, the news was not received by some until Monday.

The fax was sent out two hours after the Civil Protection Center issued the critical warning — the highest on the scale. Later in the evening, a short SMS message was sent out to each mayor. At 8 a.m. the next morning each municipality organized to meet, yet nobody foresaw the scale of the forecast.

Video by kaym4n via Instagram

The head of the Civil Protection services who issued the initial warning, Franco Gabrielli, shot back after being criticized: “Enough with the allegations. We sent the warning to Sardinia on Sunday at 14:12 (2:12 p.m). The region issued the warning to the local municipalities two hours later and some were equipped, some were not. There is a clear chain of responsibility as well as regional laws that detail what mayors are to do. I challenge anyone to tell me what I did was wrong.”

Mayor of Olbia Gianni Giovannelli, whose city was one of the hardest hit on the island, told Sky News 24 the storm was “apocalyptic,” with bridges felled and water levels reaching three meters in some places. He described the intensity of the storm’s rains as a “water bomb.”

Giovanelli defended the civil protection’s alert system, warning against finger-pointing, saying evacuation orders had been issued, and ignored, and that no weather forecast could have predicted the degree of devastation.

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Photo by @LiaCapizzi via Twitter

Italy has a reputation for its municipal systems being archaic, and if a fax machine warning is to blame, surely this must be a wake-up call for the country to update to the 21st century.

Antonella Dalu, mayor of the Comune di Torpè, is resentful that the blame has been placed on the officials: “I get warned of this same ‘critical level’ message 20 times a year. In the past, we have evacuated everyone because of this level of alert yet nothing has ever happened. How were we to know that this time it was going to be different?”

According to La Repubblica, two investigations are now underway, including one against the province of Nuoro for manslaughter.

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The Olbia-Tempio motorway on Thursday. Photo by @antoguerrera via Twitter

The manslaughter charges against the province are for the death of Luca Tanzi, a police officer who was escorting an ambulance in a jeep with three colleagues when the bridge they were driving on gave way.

A civil protection emergency shelter in Olbia. Photo by guinness81 via Instagram.

The latest reports say that more than 500 people are still displaced, with problems continuing and municipalities remaining without running water, reports La Stampa.

On Thursday, a national day of mourning was held.

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