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.
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."
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