ROME - Eight hikers died when a mountain river suddenly flooded in Italy’s southern Calabria region, with more people still unaccounted for, local emergency services said on Monday.

“We have eight dead but we can’t rule out the toll increasing,” the local civil protection unit told AFP. “There were about 30 people at the site in three different groups.”

Government sources cited by the Italian media also confirmed eight dead, saying another five people had been injured as they hiked along the Raganello river in the Pollino national park.

According to local media reports, the victims belonged to a group of approximately 15 people who had been caught off guard by the bad weather. A helicopter was helping with a search and rescue operation, with powerful lights also brought in to help rescuers work under cover of darkness.

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 the rescuers’ efforts to locate hikers in trouble, the agency said.