A coffin has burnt to ashes during a wake while motorists drove along roads engulfed in flames and smoke in Sicily as wildfires ripped through Italy, causing three deaths.
Drivers on the A29 Palermo-Mazara del Vallo motorway shared videos showing flames lapping the roadway and smoke billowing from tunnels.
Terrifying footage shows a woman and her mother driving through a motorway engulfed by flames and smoke. “This is the situation in Sicily, my mum and I were in the grip of a panic attack,” she wrote on Twitter.
The charred bodies of a couple in their 70s were recovered from their burnt-out home on the outskirts of Palermo on Tuesday as Sicily’s capital was encircled by wildfires in what authorities described as the “one of the most difficult days in decades.”
Another woman in her late 80s died in the Palermo province after an ambulance was unable to reach her home due to the fires. In Calabria, the south of Italy, a bedridden 98-year-old man was killed as fire consumed his home.
Sicily has deployed more than 3,100 firefighters to fight fires that were still burning on the hills around the capital, Palermo, on Wednesday, with Canadair planes trying to douse the flames, according to local media.
Around 2,000 people were evacuated from hotels and campsites in the Foggia region, on Italy’s Adriatic coast.
Fires were also reported on Wednesday in Siracusa, Sicily, as well as the popular tourist destinations of Puglia and Abruzzo as temperatures topped 47°C this week.
Another video shows two youngsters in tears as they launched a desperate appeal for help in saving Palermo’s 15th century church of Santa Maria di Gesu, after it was engulfed by flames.
“Please bring pumps, bring water, bring hydrants, the church is burning,” they said on Tuesday.
The church, which contained the remains of one of Palermo’s patrons, has been severely damaged, but the case with the remains was taken to safety before the flames could reach it.
A coffin was burnt during a wake in a private home as it was engulfed by flames in the western neighbourhood of Borgo Nuovo, Palermo, on Tuesday.
Those inside the house had reportedly called the fire service for help but all firefighters were extinguishing blazes elsewhere. The police arrived and rescued people from the house, but the coffin had to be abandoned, Italian media reports.
In an overnight message on Facebook, Sicilian President Renato Schifani said “scorching heat and unprecedented devastating fires” had turned Tuesday into “one of the most difficult days in decades”.
Temperatures rose to 47.6°C in parts of eastern Sicily on Monday, close to a record European high of 48.8°C recorded on the island two years ago.
Olivia Johnston, 34 and from Manchester, on Tuesday told i she was forced to evacuate a cottage in the resort of Mondello, Palermo with her children, aged 10 and 12. “Last night wildfires almost reached the residential area where we were staying,” Ms Johnston said. “We were forced to evacuate the place, I could see black skies full of smoke and flames in the distance.”
Additional reporting by agencies