Rome declared a state of emergency as the swollen Tiber river threatened to flood and the death toll from the heavy rains battering Italy rose to four.
The Civil Protection Department said the Tiber had risen about 16ft in the past two days and warned it might burst its banks.
Officials evacuated gypsy camps along the Tiber’s banks and boats broke loose from their moorings in the surging water. The smaller Aniene river, which flows into the Tiber, already overflowed, forcing officials to close down some streets in Rome and evacuate hundreds of people.
“It is as if there has been an earthquake,” Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno told the daily La Repubblica.
Tourists snapped pictures as the roiling Tiber surged underneath the city’s bridges.
Italy has been hit by days of bad weather and TV footage has shown entire neighbourhoods flooded or submerged by mud.
Downpours disrupted traffic yesterday from Milan in the north to Palermo, Sicily, in the south, as trains were delayed and many streets were flooded or blocked by fallen trees.
A few inches of water again covered Venice’s lowest parts, including the landmark St Mark’s Square, while Alpine rescuers saved a group of boy scouts who had been trapped on Mount Etna.
Four people were reported killed. Rescuers recovered the body of a man in southern Italy who was swept away in the heavy rains, while an elderly man died after his car was hit by a tree and another one was killed in a car crash in a rainstorm, police in the southern city of Reggio Calabria said.
A woman was killed on Thursday after her car was submerged in an underpass in Rome.
In Rome and Venice, two of the hardest-hit cities, union officials called off local transport strikes.
Shows at the Auditorium, an exhibition and concert centre in northern Rome designed by architect Renzo Piano, were cancelled last night.
On Thursday, more rain fell in Rome than the usual average for the entire month of December.
On Mount Etna, eight Boy Scouts were rescued yesterday after being trapped by a snowstorm at a refuge on the mountain’s north slope at an altitude of 5,577ft.
In Venice, alarms sounded early in the morning as the high tide came in and parts of the city flooded.
Still, the water was far less than the unusually high tide recorded in the lagoon city last week, when residents and tourists waded through knee-high water, shops were flooded and much of the city was brought to a halt.