Heavy rains causing flooding in Sigonella
Severe weather shut down a U.S. military base on the Italian island of Sicily on Wednesday, and flooding threatened to force the evacuation of one housing complex, officials said.
“Steps are being taken to evacuate Maranai housing residents if necessary,” said Lt. Cmdr. Lisa Braun, spokeswoman for Navy Region Europe. As of late Wednesday afternoon, residents were not forced to evacuate.
“The residents in Maranai are currently safe, however, base officials are reviewing options to move families to other locations,” Braun said. “Options include lodging in the local area and elsewhere.”
Maranai housing area is across the street from the closed base, Naval Air Station II, where the base has its airfield and executive offices. “Six inches to 3 feet of standing water has been reported,” Braun said. “The base, including the airfield, is closed until further notice.”
Roads, too, were dangerous near Mineo housing area, about 45 minutes from NAS I.
American Forces Network Sigonella is broadcasting updates, and residents are asked to tune to FM radio 106.0, on a battery-powered radio, if possible.
No injuries have been reported due to the bad weather, which was not predicted, that started about 1 a.m. Sunday and did not let up until Wednesday morning.
Adm. Harry Ulrich, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, said in a statement that he would not hesitate to seek assistance from other services and U.S. and Italian officials if needed.
“Sigonella is a strategically important facility for NATO and U.S. military operations in the region,” Ulrich said. “We need to get it to full operational status as soon as possible.”
Rear Adm. Noel Preston, commander of Navy Region Europe, flew to Sigonella on Wednesday afternoon to assess the situation.
The schools at NAS I were closed Wednesday, and pupils were kept after dismissal for about an hour Tuesday while officials found safe, passable routes. Base security vehicles escorted the buses along their routes.
“They were kept after because of hard rain and road flooding for the safety of the students,” said Rosanne Rago, an eighth-grade teacher.
Some teachers occupied the pupils by having them decorate the halls for the holidays while others showed videos.
“The kids were all very good,” Rago said. “They were not scared, they just wanted to get out and go home. But there was a real sense of calm. Everybody was calm.”
The heavy rains let up Wednesday, but additional downpours are possible. During a 20-minute phone interview Wednesday at 4 p.m., for example, the “sky has gone from a blue sky to black as black can be,” Rago said.
More rain was forecast through the night.
Roads throughout the region were flooded and closed by Italian officials, said Giovanni Micalizzi, who delivers Stars and Stripes in Sigonella.
“Everything seems to be flooded, there is mud and high waters and it’s very dangerous,” Micalizzi said.
The Navy Exchange, commissary, galley and hospital on NAS I remained open.
But roads to and from the bases were dangerous and servicemembers, civilians, and their families were strongly urged to stay put, Braun said.