Cinque Terre – Vernazza Flood Stories

Personal Accounts of the Flooding on October 25, Courtesy of Save Vernazza

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Aerial view of Vernazza after the flooding, Courtesy of Save Vernazza

What will linger forever in my mind is that the only thing more beautiful than Vernazza is the soul of its brave and generous residents.

Our stay in Vernazza began late in the afternoon on Oct. 23rd. It was our first visit to Cinque Terre and like many had gone there on the advice of Rick Steves. My wife and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary with a 2 week trip to Italy. Our highly anticipated 4 day stay in Cinque Terre was to be our “vacation within a vacation”.

During the 24th, we hiked from Vernazza all the way to Riomaggiore, stopping at Corniglia and Manarola along the way. What a spectacularly beautiful area! Around every corner of the trail we were treated to new and enchanting views of the lovely Cinque Terre. The lower trail from Corniglia to Manarola was closed so we took the steep trail up from Corniglia to Volastra and rode the bus downhill to Manarola. At Riomaggiore, we enjoyed the best meal of our 2 week trip through Italy at Ristorante La Lampara. Caught the train back to Vernazza and hung out with the locals for a glass of wine at the Ananasso Bar. We felt so welcome there.

On the 25th we decided to stay put in Vernazza since it was raining so hard and most of the trails were closed. We walked the town in the morning and stopped for a most entertaining coffee and lunch at the Blue Marlin. What fun! (Later on we heard from other travelers that many people were trapped that afternoon in the Blue Marlin by the rising waters. The owners literally broke down a wall in the back to provide a safe escape.) In the afternoon we took refuge in the train station gift shop to wait out the increasingly strong rains. When it became unsafe to stay any longer, we were escorted to safety across the tracks and over a 12 foot wall by the station manager and a local resident. I think these 2 heroes literally saved our lives by providing a safe way to leave the flooding train station. There was no way we could reach the room we had rented in the upper part of town but eventually we were taken in by a kind lady named Margarita and given dry clothes, food and a place to stay. The next day we ventured out to see a devastated town. My god it still takes my breath away and puts a lump in my throat when I bring the images to mind of the damage done. I think it was around noon that we were taken by boat to La Spezia.

Tom and Julie Maple Valley, WA  USA View Tom and Julie’s photo journal: Our Vernazza visit during the floods

We will return to Vernazza again and again. Our hearts are with all the people of Vernazza.

I was in Vernazza October 25 with my husband, brother and sister-in-law. They had never been to Vernazza and I wanted to share with them this beautiful village that I fell in love with 18 years ago and have returned to many times. We were enjoying a wonderful lunch of pesto pasta at Gianni Franzi’s on the harbor when the floods started, and we mistakenly thought the waters would recede so we stayed throughout the afternoon and then got trapped as the new river rushed past the restaurant with tremendous force. As the waters rose we moved from standing on the floor, to perching on the chairs, and then climbed up higher to the tops of the tables to try to get out of the muddy water. My husband and brother pushed with all their might to hold shut the door between the bar and restaurant to keep additional water from rushing into the restaurant. After about two hours, for one very brief moment, the water level decreased allowing the 50-60 restaurant guests and staff to rush out the front door to higher ground and safety. Moments later the river rushed even higher and the rains poured even harder- and we knew we had been extremely fortunate to escape when we did. After standing in the pouring rain for quite some time a kind family at the top of the hill allowed us into their home to escape the rain for about an hour (thank you so much for allowing 6 wet tourists escape the rain!). We were eventually taken to Al Castello restaurant where the kind owner Monica and her family provided us with shelter from the rain, along with about 150 other tourists and townspeople. They very generously prepared food and shared their wine with everyone and at about 10pm Monica connected us with Marisa from Gianni Franzi’s hotel. Marisa donated the Gianni Franzi hotel rooms to 20-30 of us who were cold and soaking wet. We never got a chance to pay Monica or Marisa and we will forever be indebted to them for providing us with shelter that night. I made a  donation today to honor all the people of Vernazza with especially warm and greatful thanks thanks to Monica and Marisa for their kindness that evening. We will never forget it, and we will return to Vernazza again and again. Our hearts are with all the people of Vernazza.

Deanna Seattle, WA  USA

We left feeling deep respect for the people of Vernazza. We wish them Godspeed in their recovery. They radiate God’s grace already.

The rain grew heavier as we nibbled cheese to the sounds of Puccini arias and the ducks quacking in the stream below our ground floor apartment windows. We were relaxed; reading passages from The Elegance of the Hedgehog and fiddling with a miniature travel puzzle. The apartment was only three years old with walls of ancient rock framed with perfectly run white plaster; a cantilevered bathroom vanity surrounded with opaque glass; hardwood and marble flooring below the translucent glass tiles of the countertop backsplash in the up-to-date kitchen. We crossed a footbridge each time we left “our home” at the bottom of the four story building to get to the street running down through the village into the harbor. We were scheduled to leave in several days, after a languid sunny month in Vernazza, one of the five Cinque Terre villages on Italy’s Ligurian coast.

About an hour after we noticed rain accumulating outside our entryway, our host knocked on the door, asking us to quickly pack a small bag and move to a room on the floor above. From our heightened vantage point we watched as the babbling brook became a raging river, first filled with rocks and mud, then with cars, vans and buses from the parking lot farther up the road. The village’s ruptured five hundred gallon propane tank was swept into the harbor after covering the lower village with a yellow haze. By nightfall the footbridge had been destroyed by vehicles and rocks washing over and beneath it, and the building’s entrance porch with the only exit door from the four sleeping rooms on the floor we now occupied was sheared away, leaving us stranded unless we leaped into the maelstrom to be swept toward the sea.

The entire roadway became the river. We were in typhoon-like weather. Landslides from the mountains surrounding the tiny valley filled the original river bed and earthen dams seemed to burst periodically as pressure mounted, sending down mud, rocks and water at speeds too fast to estimate, with noise too terrifying to forget. The cannonade of rocks bombarding the building’s foundation and lower floors shattered our nerves. Waves of mud and water crested as much as a foot above our second story room’s window sill. Water inside our room kept rising. Read more

Earlier we had barricaded the main hall entrance into the second floor with a chest. Now we tipped the sleeping room’s particle board wardrobe onto its side atop the bed, added a few pillows and blankets to sit on, barricaded the door to the room and waited. We watched the brown water cover then float the bed. As the wardrobe’s joinery came apart we placed all the flat panels and the broken doors we could find on top of the floating bed, but the platform was uneven, and our weight pushed the bed down to the floor, leaving us waist-deep in cold muddy water. By then the exterior hallway door had given way; the windows in the room beside us had broken open; we expected our room’s water level would soon be level with the screaming torrent outside. Several times the water receded, two or three feet, only to rush in again with increased force. We prayed together, talked about what our lives together had meant, and sent signals with our LED flashlight. It was pitch black, except for an ever-so-important floodlight, still shining intermittently from a building across the road.

About midnight men wearing orange wetsuits with aqua tanks, along with local men in orange rain gear knocked on the window to our room. The window had held. Water in the room had remained lower than the water in the hall. Outside, the bottom of the riverbed was now level with the second story window sill. Although it was still raining, the storm seemed to have ended as quickly as it had begun. We were led to a church uphill and my wife was carried over the rocks because she had no shoes.  We were given hot tea, dry clothes, and we tried to get some sleep.

With daylight more orange men arrived on helicopter ropes. And that afternoon remaining tourists were evacuated south to La Spezia, helped across the broken harbor to the heavily loaded boat by local men having lost everything. Neither roads nor trains were functioning. There was no electricity. There was no potable water. But people have lived in the Cinque Terre for well over 1000 years. Their family and community roots go deep into the rocky soil. Three days after the tragedy Italian TV showed footage of heavy equipment helping men with mattocks and shovels beginning the long process of recovery.

There is no way my wife and I can adequately express our gratitude to the people of Vernazza, and especially to our hosts, Annamaria and Moggie Meregoni, who cared for us even as their lives and livelihoods were falling apart, with their families and friends in such terrifying peril. My wife and I left Vernazza in borrowed clothes and with little luggage, merely two of the 2.3 million people visiting these five tiny villages each year. We left feeling deep respect for the people of Vernazza. We wish them Godspeed in their recovery. They radiate God’s grace already.

Don & Phyllis Spokane, WA  USA

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About the author: Andi Brown

I am passionate about helping people create vacations that are perfect for them through personalized travel planning, itinerary review and small experience focused tours. My services put an emphasis on the experience of Italy, getting my clients away from the tourist crowds and into the heart and soul of the people. I believe in working with family run businesses at great locations with attention to the details. If you can dream it I can make it happen.

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