The Mediterranean island of Sardinia, prized by the jet-set for its white sand beaches and crystal-clear seas, was a flood-ravaged mud bath today after a freak torrential rainstorm killed at least 16 people, downed bridges and swept away cars.
Italian Premier Enrico Letta declared a state of emergency and set aside 20 million euros (£16.7million) for emergency relief, saying the priority was reaching remote areas, saving the lives of those still unaccounted for and providing for those left homeless. Mr Letta later travelled to the island, where he met flood victims.
The island, which draws royals, entrepreneurs and ordinary tourists alike during the dry, peak summer months, received more than 44 centimeters (17.3 inches) of rain in 24 hours on Monday - half the amount it normally receives in a year, officials said.
Italy's civil protection chief, Franco Gabrielli, said the death toll may still rise as crews reach isolated areas in the countryside where some homes are submerged. The civil protection agency in Olbia said the official toll tonight was 16 with one missing.
Pope Francis said in a message posted on Twitter that he was "deeply moved by the appalling tragedy that hit Sardinia." He asked followers to offer prayers to the victims, "especially for the children".
Transport was hampered by rivers of mud gushing over roads that forced the closure of several major thoroughfares, including a tunnel into the city of Olbia.
Olbia mayor Gianni Giovannelli said the city had been destroyed by the "apocalyptic" storm, with bridges felled and water levels reaching 3 meters (10 feet) in some places. He described the ferocity of the storm's rains as a "water bomb".
The mayor defended the civil protection's alert system, which had signalled an "elevated" risk of the storm on much of Sardinia, the highest level of alert. He warned against day-after finger-pointing, saying evacuation orders had been issued and ignored and that no weather forecast could have predicted the "exceptional" degree of devastation.
Sardinia's governor, UgoCappellacci, said the dead included a family of four, reportedly of Brazilian origin, in Arzachena.
Local newspaper L'Unione Sarda said a policeman helping to escort an ambulance died when the car he was travelling in was submerged in the collapse of a bridge in Dorgali. In hard-hit Gallura, three people died after their car was swept away in the collapse of another bridge, the paper said.