Four die in flash flood at Italy festival

Rome - Four people died in a flash flood that tore through a festival in Italy on Saturday night, sweeping away residents, tents and cars in a muddy torrent.

After a sudden 10-minute burst of heavy rain during the local festival in Refrontolo near Venice, the Lierza river burst its banks, local officials and media reported on Sunday.

The bodies of four men were discovered, some of them as far as one kilometre from the area of the festivities, rescue officials said.

Local authorities said eight people had been injured in the flooding, which turned a local street into a raging river as the waters carried away tents, vehicles and stands.

Rescue workers were battling on Sunday to protect the 17th century Molinetto della Croda mill which sits beside the river.

Initial media reports said as many as 20 people had been hurt.

Six remained in hospital, one in intensive care, according to the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, who flew over the disaster zone by helicopter.

"When we arrived at the festival site, instead of a street we found a river which was more than a metre high," a firefighter told the Italian news agency ANSA.

President Giorgio Napolitano issued a statement to express his condolences to the families of the victims and "solidarity" with local residents.

Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said the tragedy was a reminder of the need to address the "structural fragility" of the land in some areas.

According to a report by the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Bologna, rainfall in July this year was 74% higher than the average for the month between 1971 and 2000.

The number of regions hit by flooding has doubled to eight in the last 10 years, according to Italy's main environmental organisation Legambiente which has called for more money to be spent on prevention.

In November last year, flash floods in and around the Sardinian port of Olbia left 17 people dead and thousands homeless.