Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Monterosso non c'e piu" - Mayor Angelo Betta

I have pictures mixed in from before and after. To the right here are 2 photos of Via Roma. The street, as you can see, has flipped up to the second story of the buildings. The far right is the interior of La Cambusa restaurant.

Far left, a photo taken from a second story window of Ristorante Il Pozzo during the flood. Below is the Stella Marina beach, after the storm. Right, Via Roma, about 10 feet down from Il Pozzo. That arch was about 8 feet high, you can see how high the dirt is.

"There is no more Monterosso"

When we started Tuesday, we had no inclination it would turn out like this.

Manuel closed the Cantina for the season Sunday night, celebrating the end of a successful few months. Monday morning was to start cleaning and packing up the assorted “everything” that was there. The whole day was spent cleaning and boxing up the plates, silverware, bottles, and everything else you need to run a restaurant. As you can imagine, it was a huge amount of stuff. Manuel put it into the storage under the floor and locked up. Tuesday was to be a free day off and he'd come back and finish Wednesday. These photos were taken during the storm.

Tuesday morning I woke up at 7 am hearing wind whistling and screaming past our window. I went to the balcony to take the laundry in and could barely hold onto it. The rain started coming down in buckets shortly after. Manuel and I were going to spend the day at his parents, and we left the apartment at around 2. The window was leaking a bit and Manuel grumbled that we’d need to replace it. I worried about what seemed to be our biggest problem. The rain was that sort of sideways, sheeting rain that you can’t avoid, so he ran a few feet down to the garage and we decided to take the car down to his parents for lunch. We trudged through some heavy rain there, and didn’t give it a second thought.

At around 3:30 we noticed the flooding really getting serious behind the house. The only way I could describe it was a river. The first car parked in the street out front started to slide down into the sea. The so did the second. That’s when we realized how deadly serious this would be. We saw a silver SUV slide down, thinking it was ours. Today, we discovered it was still parked safe and sound amidst all the debris. We were one of the only cars left on a full street. Above photo is the boat dock in the Old Town, to the right, what used to be the piazza.

Via 4 Novembre was all we could see from the safety of Manuel’s parents’ 3rd floor apartment. The street was no longer a street, but full of water rushing down, carrying everything its wake. We have no TV or water, and the phones are spotty at best. The only way we could really assess the situation was by calling friends and family. Vernazza, best we can learn, has fared more or less the same as we have. Which means that, since it’s smaller and just one formerly charming street, it’s more of less destroyed. The other Cinque Terre are, thank God, fine. The train station in Vernazza is collapsed, I don't know much else. Levanto is ok, with some serious flooding, but it seems that this storm saved all her wrath for Monterosso al Mare, taking literally the naming of red mountains by the sea. To the left is in front of the B and B on Via 4 Novembre, where the cars wound up. The right used to be the paved road of Manuel's parents house. It was full of cars before the storm.

Around 8pm Manuel and Boris, Manuel’s brother in law, went to survey the damage. Manuel’s face when he came back said it all. The Cantina and the B&B were lost. The restaurant is ok save for some moderate water damage, but the Cantina is in a basement and is still under about 4 feet of water. It’s impossible to enter. All of our storage for the wine cellar is gone, all the food and dry storage for both restaurants and the B&B – we still can’t open the garages because the water is still too high.

We are safe, and I suppose that’s the most important thing. Yet, when you really see distruction like this and it affects your life so dramatically, it’s hard to remember what’s important. It’s hard to know where to begin again. It’s hard to realize that this is actually happening to you and yours.

The Old Town fared much worse then we did. The 2 streets that run down from the mountains into the sea turned into dangerous currents, reaching the second floor of every building in the picturesque sea front piazza. Those charming pastel colored buildings that leaned on each other like drunken sailors in celebration now lean on each other like mourning friends for support. The road is twisted up, broken and almost flipped in half, looming 8 feet in the air. Cars lie haunted and empty, gnarled in trees, covered in dirt. Every person we walked by this morning, on our way to survey the damage had lost, at minimum, their livelihood. More had lost their houses and one family lost a son. Manuel’s uncle and family in the Old Town had lost their store. A friend of ours, whose family was one of the more fortunite ones in Monterosso, greeted us this morning with a quiet, “We are poor now”.

They lost everything.

Seeing it today was like a war zone. The mud in the pictures reaches up to almost the tops of the doors. All windows were blown out. I don't know how long it will take to recover from this.

What makes this place so charmingly isolated is exactly what is hurting us now. These towering mountains and meandering creeks hadn’t seen rain all summer. The ground was dry and couldn’t absorb the 500 mm and more of rain we received in less then 3 hours. That’s about 20 inches. It’s unimaginable the devastation that there is here.

The water came from the mountains funneled through the few streets and narrow houses to the sea, which was raging and roaring up in return. The two met at the shore, on Via Fegina, drowning everything that there was left.

Monterosso, as I’ve said before, is small and we have very little variety of what we can buy here. In a disaster like this, that becomes dangerous. We have no tools and no equipment, like backhoes and caterpillars, that we need to start digging us out. We have no running water to start cleaning up. We have evacuated all the tourists via one train they had run this morning to Genoa and another boat that carried others to La Spezia. There are not enough supplies here for us, let alone them, and the next person who complains about leaving their rental car here is going to get thrown in the ocean. This is a national state of disaster, at a minimum.

The news isn’t showing very much up close of the complete destruction here because they can’t get here. Val di Vara valley had some damage, and the autostrada is completely collapsed, leaving us without a way in or out. The pictures the news is showing is people in other towns on the Liguria lamenting about the mess in their basement, and they only have a few inches of muddy water to clear out. If they could only imagine what it’s like here.

It’s incredibly difficult for me to describe what it feels like to see a community like this affected in such a way. These people work incredibly hard and have climbed up from a history of poverty and backbreaking work in the mountains and the sea to make this into a resort like setting and a tourist hot spot. It’s 1,000 people and I don’t know the exact statistics, but I can’t really call anyone the “lucky ones” right now. Everything is lost now, and rebuilding is something that I can’t even begin to imagine where we will start.

My mom said, “Start at the front door”, and we will, once we can get to it. For now we’ll sit here and clean up what we can, staring at the cruel sea and looming mountains that both give us an unparalleled view and unbelievable isolation. Those red mountains and sea that gave this town everything, for centuries, including it’s name, and have proved how quickly a natural disaster can take that away. That crystal blue, Ligurian sea and those same rolling green mountians are tranquil again today, and the sun is shining over twinkling waves, as if to show spite. They are not anyone's friends today.

Note: The photo's taken DURING the storm aren't mine. Manuel's cousin, Elia, sent them to me on Facebook.


  1. Christine we ate at your restaurant a few weeks back. Excellent food and the place is beautiful.