Sicily’s main airport, in Catania, has closed down after a fire broke out on Sunday night. Firefighters were called at the scene and although the Vincenzo Bellini International Airport was initially only supposed to be closed until Monday morning, the closure was extended to Wednesday, 19 July, until 2pm.
The cause of the fire is yet to be determined by a pending investigation. It started at the ground floor and spread to the departures terminal on the second floor. The fire brigade extinguished the flames at 5:40 am, however the terminal is still filled with smoke and needs to be cleared out before operations resume.
The airport has not yet clarified whether all the flights will be cancelled or just some. Media reports have suggested that some of the suspended flights will be diverted to the other two airports on the island: Comiso, a two-hour drive away, and Palermo, a four-hour drive away. Weather passengers will be compensated for the cancelled flights or reimbursed for the additional transport costs should their flights be diverted, remains to be seen.
Although officials have not yet confirmed a link between the fire at the airport and the heatwave taking over the country, both Catania and Palermo, the biggest city in Sicily are among the 16 Italian cities under extremely high temperature alerts this week. On the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, temperatures could reach 48˚C this week, “potentially the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe”, according to the European Space Agency, while Rome could reach 46°C.
The Italian Health Ministry issued the red alerts on 14 July, however, the heatwave is lasting longer than predicted, extending into this week. Moreover, temperatures remain high at night, leaving no cooling time for the hot cities.
People in the most affected areas, including popular tourist destinations like Rome, Florence and Bologna, are advised to avoid direct sunlight between 11 am and 6 pm, to remember to stay hydrated and pay particular attention to the elderly, people health problems, people who take medication, infants and children, as well as to pets.