Italy's Deadly Floods Devastate 'Cinque Terre' Tourist Paradise

In storms that have killed at least nine, scenic villages in Liguria and Tuscany have been decimated by floods and mud. A visit to the coastal town of Monterosso, where tourists are trapped with locals -- and anger is growing.

Floods reached the first floor in Monterosso
Floods reached the first floor in Monterosso
Alessandra Pieracci

MONTEROSSO - The waves have calmed now. But after a devastating storm, along the shore of the five Cinque Terre coastal villages in northwestern Italy, the sea is still brown, filled with refuse – and frightening. Until last week, this stretch of coastline in the Liguria region, classified as a World Heritage site, was a little slice paradise. Today, everything is destroyed.

A motorized raft from the port authority has left the village of Levanto to reach Monterosso, a village which has been cut off by the storms this week that have left more than a dozen dead or missing. There, some 2,000 people are trapped up on the highest floor of their houses, without food or gas. The lifeboat has to move between trunks, shells of cars, cisterns, and small fishing boats torn apart by the storms.

Aboard, policemen come to help the local volunteers, and people who are trying to reach their elderly parents, cut off in their homes in Monterosso. Some of them cry at the sight of the village. No more piers, no more landing places. Nothing is left anymore as it had been. The five small rivers surrounding the village burst over the banks, and dragged mountains of mud across the village.

A helicopter is searching the sea for any bodies, and excavators are trying to free the roads leading to the village. It is a huge job. Via Garibaldi, via Roma, all the others roads and the quaint little alleys that draw in international tourists are devastated. "Monterosso no longer exists," the mayor of the village, Angelo Betta, says. Many feel abandoned, and anger is growing after regional authorities passed through. "They don't bring shovels. We have nothing to remove the mud," say locals.

Memories of Katrina

People here are building ways out by using tables from the restaurants and are digging the mud using buckets. Excavators are removing rubble. "Stop the excavators, dig slowly, don't squash his body," cries Betta Gargano, whose husband, 39-year-old Sandro Usai, disappeared during the storm. "He faced the water to save the others," the mayor says.

Usai, who worked in a restaurant and volunteered at town hall, wanted to open the manholes to help the water flow away. He was last seen hanging on to a grid. Then, the current carried him away. "I was a volunteer during the Florence flood of 1966. But even that disaster wasn't comparable to this one," says Franco Gargano, father of Betta. "Here, only volunteers are working. Where are the military? In1966, they arrived right away."

Many share Gargano's bitterness. Still, they keep digging and helping each other. The owners of Margherita hotel have provided shelter to 70 people. "We gave back the money to the tourists who were here on vacation and were forced to share their rooms with seven other people," they say. Two American guests of the hotel came to Italy to see the Vatican, Florence and the Cinque Terre. In Monterosso, they saw their rent-a-car carried away by the current. "We are from New Orleans," says Terry, one of the two American tourists. "We survived Katrina. And now this."

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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