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Alps Flooding Death Toll Rises

October 19, 2000

MANTUA, Italy (AP) _ Rescuers digging through a layer of mud and rock in Alpine villages uncovered four bodies Thursday, raising the death toll from massive floods and landslides in Italy and Switzerland to 35.

Three bodies were pulled out in the Swiss village of Gondo, which was hit by a landslide at the onset of the flooding. Across the border in Italy, rescuers recovered a body in the Val D’Aosta region, Italian Civil Defense official Marco Ludovici said.

Ten people were still missing and feared dead.

In Italy, the flood-swollen Po River hit historic highs as it surged past evacuated settlements in the northern plains on its way to the Adriatic. The flood crest Thursday was headed toward Emilia Romagna, a rich agricultural region south of Lombardy, where residents of low-lying areas were monitoring the level of the river. A few hundred people in riverside villages have been evacuated in the past days.

In the countryside around the ancient city of Mantua, the dikes on the Po were opened at three different points overnight, said Graziano De Leonardis, a local civil defense official.

The end of the rain eased the threat for residents in the Po Valley. Upstream, the Val D’Aosta and Piedmont regions, the hardest hit by the floods, were slowly returning to normal.

Some schools were reopening in both regions as residents started coming back to their homes.

In Turin, the Fiat auto company reopened two of its biggest plants Thursday after a three-day closure. Fiat spokesman Andrea Griva said about 7,500 cars would have been assembled in that time. Water supplies were restored and almost all the city’s 29 bridges were reopened.

A few villages around Turin, however, were still isolated, with helicopters ferrying in food.

Authorities in both Italy and Switzerland said overall damage would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Italian Premier Giuliano Amato said Wednesday that an additional $22 million has been allocated for aid, in addition to $44 million already promised by the government.

Rail traffic through the Simplon tunnel between Italy and Switzerland, which had resumed, was suspended indefinitely Thursday because of a renewed danger of landslides, Swiss Federal Railways said.

The floods and landslides began Saturday in southern Switzerland and northern Italy after days of pounding rain across the region. Floodwaters roaring out of the Alps brought Lake Maggiore on the border to its highest level in 160 years.

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