Environmental disaster looms from River Po oil spill
A giant oil slick threatened wildlife, fishing grounds and tourist spots Thursday as it moved down the Po, Italy's longest river, towards the sea, defying all efforts to stem its progress.
Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo called the spill, blamed on saboteurs who broke into a disused refinery and opened valves, "a true attack on the environment and on citizens' health," the ANSA news agency reported.
Several kilometers (miles) long, the slick was halfway between the cities of Cremona and Mantua late Thursday, having covered about 200 kilometres (125 miles) since it was released into a tributary of the Po early Tuesday.
Authorities have been trying to contain the flow by erecting barriers to absorb the oil, but with little success.
"The biggest operations will take place in the area of Piacenza, where we hope we will be able to stop the densest part of the slick before it enters our territory," said Gabriele Ferrari, public safety chief in the northern city of Parma.
The Veneto region, further downstream, prepared for the arrival of the slick by placing two ships across the river..
"We must do our utmost to prevent and limit the damage to the environment as well as the eventual impact on the economy and tourism in the Po delta and the Adriatic Sea, an area unique for its beauty and delicate (ecological) balance, regional fisheries chief Isi Coppola said.