Mudslides kill four along Swiss-Italian border

Nina Larson
Mudslides kill four along Swiss-Italian border

Geneva (AFP) - At least four people were killed as landslides triggered by torrential rain slammed into houses and buildings on either side of the Swiss Italian border Sunday, police and media said.

In the rain-drenched southern Ticino region of Switzerland, two people died and four were injured when a mudslide slammed into a small residential building, regional police said.

On the other side of the border, a pensioner and his granddaughter were killed when another landslide engulfed a house on the Italian shores of Lake Maggiore, local media reported. Three other family members survived.

Those landslides were the latest of many to recently have hit northern Italy and southern Switzerland amid incessant rainfall over recent weeks.

They also came a day after storms in southern France killed six people, including a mother and her two small sons whose car was swept away in flooding.

In Switzerland, the bodies of two local women, aged 34 and 38, were pulled Sunday from the rubble of the three-story apartment building in Davesco-Soragno, near Lugano, after being hit by the mudslide shortly before 2:30 am (0130 GMT), Ticino police said.

Four others, including a 44-year-old Italian man, had been injured and taken to hospital after the building, which reportedly housed eight people, collapsed.

Another resident had returned home after the landslide hit and was unharmed, but police said they were still searching the area to make sure no one else was under the rubble.

The tragedy came 10 days after a young mother and her three-year-old daughter were killed when a landslide swept away their house in the same region.

After weeks of heavy rain, southern Ticino has been hit by severe flooding, which worsened when Lake Lugano burst its banks in several places and Lake Maggiore threatened to do the same.

Just across Lake Maggiore, a 70-year-old man died Sunday after his house was partially buried in a "sea of mud" unleashed after the rain-doused hill behind the building gave way, Italian media reported.

- Sea of mud -

Rescue workers managed to drag his 16-year-old granddaughter from the rubble after more than four hours of digging but she died later in hospital.

Her parents and grandmother survived. The family's small, two-storey villa was the only property affected in Cerro, a hamlet on the outskirts of Laveno Mombello, a popular holiday spot.

A neighbour described how he had been awoken during the night by a huge bang "like fireworks".

"Firefighters and civil protection officers were there very quickly and started digging with spades, even with their bare hands. The parents were helping them ... it was a horrific scene," the neighbour told Italian television.

The tragedy means a total of 11 people have died in Italy in accidents related to the freak weather conditions in just over a month.

That toll was expected to rise to 12 later Sunday as rescue workers continued to search for a man whose car was swept off the road by a torrent of water near Genoa, the main city on the Italian Riviera.

Genoa is particularly vulnerable to flooding because the foothills of the Alps climb steeply from immediately around the city.

The city experienced 139 millimetres (five and a half inches) of rain in a matter of hours on Saturday. The Liguria region has had as much rain in the first 15 days of November as it normally gets in an entire year.

Southern Switzerland has also been soaked, with the Swiss national meteorology institute telling public broadcaster RTS that Ticino had received between 50 and 70 litres of water per square metre in a 24-hour period.

While the rain subsided Sunday, the Swiss government warned that it would pick up again between Monday and Tuesday on both sides of the border, with as much as 100 millimetres expected in some areas.