Experts blame heavy construction for Ischia landslide tragedy

Experts and activists have said that the construction of illegal structures has increased the risks of natural disasters on the Italian island of Ischia.

Four people are still missing after Saturday’s disaster in the port of Casamicciola Terme, where houses were destroyed and streets filled with mud.

Confirmed victims included a 22-day-old infant and two other small children.

In exceptional cases, heavy rain caused part of Mount Epomeo to collapse before dawn, picking up speed as it entered the populated port city of Casamicciola.

The WWF said land in the hardest-hit areas, made up of agglomerated ash and rocks from nearby Mount Vesuvius on the mainland, should have been left free to runoff, instead being the site of rampant unauthorized construction.

“This material does not fully adhere to the surface of the island, it remains there as a layer. So when we have heavy rainfall, it causes a kind of snowball effect that moves downstream and accumulates in high-risk areas.

Therefore, if there are buildings in these areas, the situation becomes explosive,” said Gaetano Benedetto, president of the WWF Italian think tank.

“Everyone knows that Italy is a fragile country with a high hydrogeological risk. But not everyone knows that risk areas have been accurately surveyed and mapped.

“Today, more than 16% of Italy is in high-risk areas,” he continued.

The island of Ischia, whose thermal baths and picturesque hilly coast attract visitors from all over the world, is known for its high concentration of residential buildings.

Geologist Arcangelo Francesco Violo said that Ischia, which lies in an earthquake zone across the sea from Naples, is vulnerable to natural disasters.

According to environmentalists and Forio Mayor Francesco Del Deo, local authorities in the hardest-hit area have received more than 27,000 requests in successive government amnesties since 1985 to get official permission for structures that violated building codes in some way.

However, the mayor told Sky Italia: “It’s not that 27,000 villas were built illegally or 27,000 apartments were built illegally. Let’s start by clarifying this, otherwise people will think that the island is completely filled with concrete.”

Mariateresa Imparato, head of Legambiente in the Campania region around Ischia, said overbuilding had weakened the land and urged authorities to demolish buildings that did not have permits.

He added that granting amnesties for illegal construction put people at risk.

It was not possible to get a comment from the city office of Casamicciola, which is responsible for the construction.

As the political amnesty scandal escalated, Environment and Energy Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin said in a statement that he would seize illegal buildings to investigate for security purposes, with pardons for minor infractions only.

On Sunday, the government of Georgia Prime Minister Meloni allocated an initial €2 million aid package for Ischia and suspended tax payments for residents until the end of the year.

Claudio D’Ambra, head of the Ischia engineering association, said the tragedy on the island’s highest mountain showed that investment was needed to ensure safety.

Watch the Euronews report in the player above.