AULLA, Italy (AP) — Soldiers and civilian rescue workers battled knee-deep mud Thursday as they searched for survivors after flash floods and mudslides inundated picturesque villages around coastal areas of Liguria and Tuscany.
Coast guard cutters were also called in following reports that some of the missing may have been swept into the sea by the fury of the storm. At least nine people died and six others are missing.
Many towns are still isolated nearly 48 hours after the storms hit. A military officer told Sky Italia that 500 soldiers were brought in to help in the search operation and to clear roads and bridges.
Villages like Aulla in Tuscany, where two people are confirmed dead and one is listed as missing, were covered by mud that swept into homes and stores and caked parked cars.
"In an hour, the work of 10 years was lost," the Rev. Giovanni Perrini said as he inspected his parish church and nearby museum filled with mud.
In Borghetto Vara, a woman whose house was destroyed recovered her five kittens from the mud. "It is all that I have left, I have nothing else," the unidentified woman told the ANSA news agency.
Six of the victims came from Borghetto Vara, a village in Liguria known for its grapes, wines and chestnuts. Roiling waters and mud tore through the village, 45 miles (75 kilometers) from Genoa and near the Cinque Terre, a popular vacation area, which also sustained damage.
Schools, businesses and stores were closed in many villages, railroad service was interrupted and the highway linking Genoa and Livorno was blocked.
"Everything was coming down," said Luigi Ribes, a resident of Mulazzo, one of the hard-hit towns. "I was seeing stones, trees, and every possible thing pass by."
Mulazzo's former mayor, Roberto Malaspina, said three bridges in town were damaged, with two of them left impassible and the third accessible only by foot. The damage to the town's roads and houses amounted to "an apocalypse."