The Mediterranean island of Sardinia, prized by the jet-set for its white sand beaches and crystal-clear seas, was a flood-ravaged mudbath today after a freak torrential rainstorm killed at least 17 people, downed bridges, and swept away cars. Italian Premier Enrico Letta declared a state of emergency and set aside $27 million for emergency relief, saying the priority was reaching remote areas, saving the lives of those still missing, and providing for those left homeless.
The popular tourist destination received 17.3 inches of rain in 24 hours yesterday—half the amount it normally receives in a year. Italy's civil protection chief said the death toll may still rise as crews reach isolated areas in the countryside. Transport was hampered by rivers of cocoa-colored mud gushing over roads, forcing the closure of several major thoroughfares. Olbia Mayor Gianni Giovannelli said the city had been destroyed by the "apocalyptic" storm, with bridges felled and water levels reaching 10 feet in some places. He described the ferocity of the storm's rains as a "water bomb." (Read more Sardinia stories.)