ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The Italian government declared a state of emergency Friday for the Sicilian city of Messina and surrounding areas after mudslides left at least 14 people dead and many others injured or missing.
A heavy downpour hit Sicily Thursday afternoon, badly affecting the areas around Trapani, Palermo, Agrigento and Messina, the Italian Civil Protection Department said.
Roads and railway tracks were blocked because of flooding. Messina, which sits along the strait separating Sicily from mainland Italy, was one of the worst-hit areas.
Mudslides blocked roads, with some of the towns near Messina reachable only by sea or on foot. Various buildings collapsed, whether from mudslides, rain, or gas and electrical explosions triggered by the weather, authorities said.
"It was the apocalypse," a woman from a small town near Messina told Italian TV. "The downpour was so strong. Trees were moving and falling everywhere."
Fourteen people were confirmed dead from the mudslides and at least 40 people were injured, said Attilio Borda, the spokesman for Messina City Hall.
About 20 people were unaccounted for by Friday morning and a number of people were left homeless, authorities said.
Italian fire brigades and the army launched rescue operations. Some of the injured were taken by helicopter to Messina's main hospital or other hospitals in Sicily, Borda said.
Those left homeless were gathering in public schools until a tent city or other means of housing could be found, he said.
The weather has since improved and no more downpours were expected.