If you looking for a literary quote to describe last week’s devastating flood that destroyed two of the five Cinque Terre and almost obliterated several towns in the Tuscan Lunigiana, the reference to Italy’s “fatal gift of beauty” is apt. Lord Byron, who used the line in a celebrated poem, lived in Genoa for a time so he knew something about the spectacular beauty of this steep and narrow region where mountains planted with olive trees and vines spill right down into the Ligurian sea.
I, too, lived in a coastal suburb of Genoa for a couple of years in the early 1990’s, and experienced for myself how unchecked construction along the coast has meant that flooding and mudslides are a sadly annual event. With the autumn rains usually comes disaster — a hillside overbuilt with highways and cement condos isn’t able to withstand events like the 20 inches of torrential rain that, on October 25, fell in just a few hours. The result? A rushing river of muddy water that poured into the narrow cobbled streets and piazzas of the Cinque Terre (‘Five Lands’) and buried the tiny ports of Vernazza and Monterosso in hundreds of tons of debris and mud. Although the Cinque Terre are on UNESCO’s list of World Monument Sites, that didn’t protect them from Mother Nature’s fury. Strict regulations insure that these five picturesque fishing villages, whose walking trails attract hundreds of thousands of international tourists each year, are not spoiled by new construction but the surrounding landscape is not so lucky.
“A river always returns to its bed,” commented one resident of Aulla, and a dam built on the Magra River is thought to have contributed to the devastating effects the flood had on this inland Tuscan town. Ten people were left dead and three are still missing in this so-called “natural disaster” where it is man’s interference with nature that seems to have been the main cause of the flood’s destruction. And it’s not over yet – more heavy rain is predicted to fall on Thursday, November 3rd so the population is trying to stock up on food, water and sandbags in the event of another deluge.
The Italian government declared a state of emergency for the region and immediately released 65 million euros to start clean-up operations. Additional funds are being collected by Il Corriere della Sera newspaper and the news division of the TV channel La7.
L’Associazione Amici delle Cinque Terre has created this relief fund called “Fondi per Monterosso e Vernazza”. Bank transfers, also from abroad, can be made to account number: BIC (SWIFT) CRFIIT2S350. In the space where you are asked for what the money is to be used, write “Un aiuto per Monterosso e Vernazza. Alluvionati Cinque Terre.”