ROME: Eight hikers died when a mountain river suddenly flooded in Italy's southern Calabria region, with five people still missing, local emergency services said.
"We have eight dead but we can't rule out the toll increasing," the local civil protection unit told AFP.
A statement last evening from the prefecture of Cosenza, capital of the province where the flooding hit, said 23 people were saved and five were still missing, as well as the eight fatalities.
It also said there were two groups of 18 hikers at the site.
The Corriere della Sera daily reported the eight dead were four men and four women, while two of the 23 rescued were children, including a girl with hypothermia who was taken to hospital by helicopter.
A local guide is among the five missing, according to the newspaper.
Powerful lights were being used to help rescuers work under cover of darkness, regional civil protection chief Carlo Tansi said.
A Dutch hiker, quoted in local media, said: "A real avalanche of water came unexpectedly. We did not have time to do anything. I was lucky, it was an incredible thing.
" Earlier on Monday this part of Calabria, near the city of Cosenza, experienced several hours of heavy rain and strong winds although conditions began to improve during the evening.
The dramatic gorges carved by the Raganello river are only recommended for experienced hikers due to the many challenges posed by the route, which at certain times of the year is rendered off-limits, the AGI news agency reported.
The local authorities strictly limited access to the area and have also marked certain rocky areas in order to help rescuers' efforts to locate hikers in trouble, the agency said.