From Monday, May 15 through Wednesday, May 17, 2023, the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy experienced a torrential rainfall event that dumped an average of 200 millimeters (just under eight inches) of rain across the affected area over a period of just 36 hours. Some of the worst-hit parts received up to 500 mm (just under 20 inches) over the same timeframe.
The rainfall began to let up on Thursday, but the devastation wrought by the combination of heavy rain and drought-stricken earth that isn’t able to absorb it is, at this point, incalculable according to many in the region. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate, with Emilia Romagna region president Stefano Bonaccini estimating on May 18 that around 3,500 had evacuated from the city of Bologna, with a total of 20,000 or more having evacuated from the affected area.
For those unfamiliar with the geography, Emilia Romagna is home to Italy’s Motor Valley, where the likes of Ducati, Energica, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and more have long made their home. It’s also an extremely important agricultural region within Italy, and thousands of farms are currently underwater because of this flooding. Fruit tree orchards (which can take seven years to produce) have been destroyed, fields of crops have flooded, and animals have drowned.
At least 23 rivers have burst their banks, and over 280 landslides are known to have occurred as of May 18. Some elderly residents have said that while they’ve lived through floods before, they don’t remember them being as severe as this one.
"Soils that remain dry for a long time end up becoming cemented, drastically limiting their capacity to absorb water," Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci explained to the BBC. Multiple factors have come up in discussions of who and what is to blame: climate change, poor river management, and lack of adequate regional and national emergency response plans for catastrophic weather events, to name just a few.
Earlier in the week, the Emilia-Romagna Formula One Grand Prix at Imola was cancelled to avoid diverting emergency services away from the flooding. Formula One has since donated €1 million (about $1,078,725) to the Emilia Romagna flood relief effort, as well as all the food and refreshments it had planned to serve at the grand prix, which was to have taken place this weekend. Ferrari also donated €1 million of its own, and outreach and support efforts are ongoing.