Rome is on high alert as city officials gave warning that the Tiber was expected to break its banks Friday after days of torrential rain and violent thunderstorms.

Gianni Alemanno, the mayor of Rome, said the emergency was equivalent to Rome being "hit by an earthquake." He said the whole of Italy had been struck by "a wave of exceptionally bad weather," but in Rome "we had more rain in one night than normally comes down in the whole of December."

Although high embankments were built along the banks of the Tiber in the heart of Rome after Italian unification in 1870, areas further downstream remain vulnerable to flooding, especially the Ponte Milvio and Flaminio areas.

"Rome under water, all eyes on the Tiber" ran one headline today.

A planned transport walkout in Rome as part of a general strike Friday organized by the left wing CGIL trades union was called off because of the emergency as police urged people not to use their cars.

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The Rome Fire Brigade said it had evacuated dozens of people trapped in cars in flooded streets and underpasses. Civil protection officials distributed sandbags to those living on ground floors in affected areas of the city and prepared evacuation plans.

A 54-year-old cleaner, Bruna Carrara, was found dead inside her car after it became submerged in 13 feet of water and mud in an underpass in the suburb of Monterotondo as hail and rain poured down.

In Venice alarms sounded as the high tide surged in, flooding St. Mark's Square. However the water level was below that of last week when an unusually high tide caused one of the worst floods for two decades.

Click here to read more on this story from the Times of London.