Several dead as floods batter northern Italy

STORY: Several people died and thousands were evacuated from their homes as torrential rain battered Italy's northern Emilia-Romagna region, triggering widespread floods, officials said on Wednesday.

The coastguard rescued residents in Faenza from their roofs.

Italy's Civil Protection Minister said some areas had received half their annual rainfall in just 36 hours, causing rivers to burst their banks, sending water cascading through towns and submerging thousands of acres of farmland.

The torrential rains followed months of drought which dried out the land, reducing its capacity to absorb water and worsening the impact of the floods, meteorologists said.

The vice president of Emilia-Romagna said the rains were starting to ease later on Wednesday but that river levels were still rising.

This weekend's Formula One race in Imola, which is close to many of the worst-hit areas, was called off after the government said the emergency services had to concentrate on the rescue operation.

Muddy waters flowed through the streets of Faenza, foring locals to flee to the top stories of their homes. Many were rescued by firefighters in dinghies.

Road and rail links were blocked in numerous locations and the mayors of many towns and cities, including Bologna, urged residents not to leave their homes.

It was the second time this month that Emilia-Romagna has been battered by bad weather, with at least two people dying during storms at the beginning of May.