Fifteen rivers burst their banks after heavy storms across country cause landslides and submerge villages

Angela Giuffrida in Rome for The GuardianFive people have died and thousands have been evacuated from their homes after heavy storms wreaked havoc in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, causing severe flooding and landslides.

People sought refuge on the rooftops of their homes after 15 rivers broke their banks, submerging entire towns.

The five deaths were confirmed by the prefect of Forlì-Cesena, Rai News reported. Among the victims were an elderly man and a couple who owned a company in the agriculture sector, according to Corriere della Sera. The body of a German woman was found on a beach in Cesenatico, a town by the Adriatic coast, but it is unclear if she was killed in the storms.

Italy’s civil protection agency said on Wednesday there could be worse to come. “The rainfall is not over, it will continue for several hours,” the agency’s chief, Titti Postiglione, told SkyTG24 news. “We are facing a very, very complicated situation.”

There has been heavy rain across Italy in recent days but the worst-affected area has been Emilia-Romagna and parts of the central Marche region, where 12 people died in floods last September. The Emilia Romagna F1 Grand Prix scheduled fothis weekend has been cancelled.