Italy: 'Europe is by your side,' says von der Leyen after visiting flood-devastated Emilia Romagna
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised Italy her support on Thursday during a helicopter tour of the Emilia Romagna region affected by last week's floods.
"In the coming weeks, when we have managed to make an overall estimate of the damage caused by the flooding, we will also make an application for the activation of the Solidarity Fund, which is provided for emergencies and natural disasters," said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni who accompanied the Commission President.
"This is unfortunately a fund that Italy has had to access on other occasions, but I think it was also important that President von der Leyen saw with her own eyes the extent of the problem and the plurality of problems we are dealing with" she continued.
The flooding last week claimed at least 15 lives. Twenty-one rivers overran their banks and at least 300 landslides were triggered by a heavy concentration of rainfall, which couldn’t be absorbed by terrain that had been parched by lack of rain for weeks.
"It’s heartbreaking to see that, to see the floods, the water, the land under water, covered by water, but also to see the mud. And these deep scars of the many many landslides," von der Leyen added.
"So indeed it was very helpful to see from above the wits of the damage and the devastation and also the very different problems that it causes. Emilia-Romagna has a long history, rich history, so it is all the more painful to see how deep the destruction and devastation in this region is.
"So basically I’m here to send one clear message, and it’s 'L’Europa è con voi' (Europe is by your side).".
Together with the region's president Stefano Bonaccini, and the province mayor Enzo Lattuca, the President visited the areas most affected by the floods and met some of the rescue workers and residents.
The Italian government on Tuesday approved more than two billion euros in aid for the flood-stricken region, including farmers and business owners in one of the country's most productive regions.
The government is envisioning raising by one euro ($1.1) the price of admission tickets to state museums, Premier Giorgia Meloni said. The money would be earmarked to help pay for repairs to damaged cultural institutions.
Meloni told reporters the assistance approved at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday included the suspension of tax payments, as well as, utility bills over the coming months. Mortgage payments in areas considered disaster zones will also be suspended.
"In the situation in which Italy finds itself, finding 2 billion euros in a few days isn't an easy thing,'' Meloni said.
She cited many of the categories receiving aid, including education, where laptops must be purchased for students who can't reach schools due to the flooding.
For workers temporarily left jobless because farms and businesses were destroyed or left inaccessible, some 580 million euros were allocated.
Emilia-Romagna Gov. Stefano Bonaccini, who flanked Meloni at the news conference, expressed thanks for the swift approval of aid, but noted that the region “has wounds and will have them for a while.”
"There are people who lost everything, or who lost almost everything,'' Bonaccini said.
Other sectors, like the important agricultural sector of the region's economy, known for its production of fruit, honey, wheat, pork and poultry are still calculating losses.
Also among the areas badly damaged were many beach resorts along the Adriatic Sea, a stretch of coast very popular with tourists from Italy and northern Europe.