An 'heroic' Italian saved his 3-year-old granddaughter from a flooded basement before dying in a desperate effort to save the rest of her family during a violent rainstorm in Tuscany.

Roberto Ramacciotti, 65, lived in a separate flat above the home of his son and wife Simone and Glenda Ramacciotti, and his grandchildren, in an apartment block in the viale Nazario Sauro in the port city of Livorno.

After waking during the deluge he raced downstairs and dived into the flooded apartment. He rescued his 3-year-old granddaughter, Camilla, before going back into the flooded garden flat to try to save her brother.

He swam into the basement a fifth time but failed to re-emerge, firefighters told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

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At least three other people died in the flash flooding in addition to the family of four, taking the death toll to at least seven, authorities said.

"The little girl survived due to the heroic gesture of her grandfather," the Livorno Telegrafo newspaper reported. The family was asleep when the water flooded into their small flat and had no time to react.

Divers worked to recover the bodies as tearful neighbours watched.

Tourists had to change their plans as Livorno railway station closed and a nearby campsite was evacuated.

"The city is on its knees," said Filippo Nogarin, the local mayor. The Government had underestimated the danger, issuing a code orange alert for the region rather than red, he added.

"We didn't expect this because the alert was orange. Then we woke up to this," he said, adding that the death toll "may still rise" but could have been avoided entirely.

Italy's civil protection service said the code orange alert for Florence was still in place as the storms, which began in northern Italy, swept southwards down the country.

Underpasses were closed in parts of Rome, and flooding caused seven metro stations to close. The city council advised residents to stay at home and to avoid parks until they had been checked for possible fallen trees.

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