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Spotlight on illegal buildings as Ischia death toll now 8

MILANO– The Italian resort island of Ischia has a long history of natural disasters, but experts say this weekend’s landslide that killed eight people and left five missing was exacerbated by a combination of climate change and excessive development often illegal.

Search teams digging through meters of mud and debris for a third day recovered the eighth victim on Monday, identified by the prefect of Naples as a 15-year-old boy whose younger siblings were confirmed dead during of the weekend. The victims include a three-week-old baby who was named Giovangiuseppe after the island’s patron saint, and his parents.

Unusually heavy rain caused a chunk of Mount Epomeo to collapse before dawn on Saturday, gathering speed as it entered the populated port town of Casamicciola, where it demolished buildings and swept away cars and buses in the sea. Some 30 homes were inundated with mud and water, and more than 200 residents of the town of 8,300 remain homeless, officials said.

“He went down to the valley. … He felled 30-, 40-year-old trees with him, trees that haven’t been cut for years,” said Parisio Jacono, a resident of Casamicciola. In the city, he razed “all the gardens and vineyards”, moving huge stones.

Environmental experts and geologists have pointed to a building pattern that interferes with natural water runoff, as well as a prevalence of illegal construction on the mountainous island of volcanic origin just off Naples, susceptible to both landslides and earthquakes.

“In Ischia there was an extreme event, very heavy rains, a result of climate change, on an island that has become a symbol of illegal construction,” said Stefano Ciafani, the president of the environmental group Legambiente.

He cited 27,000 requests to regularize unapproved buildings on the island in a series of amnesties since 1985, representing about half of all buildings on Ischia. While many applications are still pending, some 600 of the structures have been ordered to be demolished. But Ciafani said that, statistically, only a third of all ordered demolitions are carried out in Italy.

“We don’t know if the houses that were hit by the landslide were illegal,” Ciafani said. “But Casamicciola, the town where the landslide happened, is one of the towns with the most construction abuses.”

In Casamicciola, requests for amnesty number 3,506. Like many on the island, illegally built structures are primarily for vacation homes, Ciafani noted, not primary residences that fell within the scope. of the 1985 amnesty.

Casamicciola itself has become synonymous with natural disasters. Two other landslides, in 2006 and 2009, killed five people, and a relatively minor 4.0 magnitude quake in 2017 killed two people. More than 2,000 people died there in a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 1883, and a landslide in 1910 killed a dozen.

Fabrizio Curcio, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, acknowledged the “anger (and) pain” caused by the images from Ischia. They include a white villa balanced on a precipice and a mud-covered man floating in the water, clinging to a shutter.

“They remind us of the fragility of the territory,” he said, noting that 7 million Italians live in areas at risk of flooding, and 1.3 million in areas at risk of landslides. “Our territory is the pearl of the Mediterranean, but it has critical problems which are evident.”

ABC News

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