30 October 2011

Disaster Strikes Vernazza

*For updated information, click the label "Vernazza Updates".  

It has been almost a week since the mountain above Vernazza came crashing down upon this picturesque village. Tuesday, October 25, started as most mornings do, with errands and preparation for the lunch hour. The first of the rainy season’s storms was pouring down rain as usual for a late October day. The town’s people were about their business, going to the bank at the top of the hill, having caffĂ© at the Blue Marlin Bar and my father-in-law was setting up for a long day of work remodeling a building on the mountain side. Everything seemed normal, but the rain was coming down so hard, the street had turned into a rushing stream. My father-in-law and the other workers had problems operating their equipment in such heavy rain, so they wisely decided to call it a day and head home.
The rain kept pouring down until the village became a rushing river. The cars in the parking lot above town began to get swept up by the water. The strong current carried cars and trucks down into town like they were nothing but toys. Some locals looked on from their balconies with disbelief as their cars rushed by below them.
And the rain kept coming down…until the unthinkable happened. Around 3pm, the mountain above gave way and like a dirt tsunami, the earth plowed down, sweeping up everything in its path, pushing around the corner in a rush of flowing water, rocks, mud and cars. Smashing into the walls as the road turns and bottlenecks, a house collapsed from the pressure. The flow instantly eliminated the children’s playground before smashing into the bridge of the train station, burying the tracks and filling the second story tunnels with debris. The concrete and iron was no match for the fury of the landslide. It continued on, barreling down Via Roma, engulfing every business along the way, sparing nothing and no one.
Some people had to flee to avoid getting carried away; many made it to safety—some did not. Some saw their loved ones swept away before their very eyes. The raging landslide continued on, destroying what was left of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monstrous earth poured into the piazza like a wild animal set loose and dumped all the cars, dirt, debris and boats into the sea.
Notice the street lamp and telephone lines in relation to the ground
A path of destruction lay in its wake.

The Blue Marlin Bar, destroyed.

The little bottega food store, destroyed.
This is a two-story portico
The Gianni Franzi Ristorante, destroyed.
This guy is standing in front of a balcony!
Everything on the ground floor, from the top of the mountain to the end of the piazza is destroyed. The debris filled the narrow street of the village up to the second floor, burying the ground floor as if it never existed. With all the doors buried below 9-10 feet of debris, people needed to climb out of their windows and balconies to get out.
All roads in and out of Vernazza were washed away, the train tracks buried and people were left with no water, no gas, no electricity and no cell service. The outside world had no news, no contact, no information at all. In a terrifying wave of destruction, Vernazza had been completely severed from the rest of the world.
The ground is above the first story
The following day, news slowly seeped into La Spezia, the nearby city, as a few survivors arrived by boat. Those of us with friends and family in Vernazza were aware that the storm had cause terrible damage, but we had no idea of the scope of devastation. Emergency boats were sent with first-aid supplies and drinking water. As word got out, volunteers started coming with boots, shovels and plenty of cigarettes.
By Friday, the Protezione Civile (Italy's version of a National Guard) started an organized response with registered volunteers, earth-moving equipment and rescue helicopters. For days and nights people have been working non-stop to dig Vernazza out of the rubble.

My heart was crushed to think about what my friends in Vernazza were going through and to see the images and hear the stories made it that much more devastating. As of now, there are still four people missing.
Seeing the roof of the Santa Marta Church
Rick Steves, who can be credited for putting the Cinque Terre on the map, has written a lovely piece in his November Newsletter on the shocking devastation. He put it best when he said:
“as I read emails from Vernazzan friends and look at the horrifying photos and videos of the disaster, I feel I've lost a friend. In fact, looking at the photos — store fronts ripped off and fishing boats crumbled on rocks — I get this ghastly feeling that these are photos of a crime scene...and that nature has murdered my friend.” 
But from the depths of despair for a treasure lost to destruction, rays of hope begin to shine through.
Only 120 hours after the landslide, the river that had reclaimed it’s original route through town has been redirected, the ground is now visible in the piazza and the rail lines are getting cleared.
Firefighters, civil protection, the Red Cross and countless volunteers have joined the locals in the rescue effort. My husband joined them this weekend helping to clear the debris, and even though he says it will take years to bring Vernazza back to it’s glory, I feel hopeful and positive for a bright future.
The people are standing on what was the deep canal with a trickling stream
Messages of support and love have poured in from all over the world. Facebook has been a great way for people to share information, photos and support. It has also been the only means of detailed information due to zero news coverage on Vernazza. Those of us on the outside have been able stay updated thanks to people on the ground like Giuliano Pucci, who took these photos, and Facebook groups like Diamo una mano a ripulire Vernazza and Riomaggiorese Nel Mondo.
Of the five villages, only Vernazza and Monterosso have sustained damages. Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are fine. For more information and pictures on the extensive damages to Monterosso, visit Little Paradiso Blog. There were also several other towns with massive damage and flooding throughout Liguria and western Tuscany. Towns like Brugnato and Aulla, which are located along the flooded Magra river, were nearly destroyed and left without electricity, gas and water. They each have their own rescue efforts in full swing.
Vernazza has made a place in people’s hearts all over the planet and many have been asking how they can help. If you would like to donate money to help the victims and the rebuilding of Vernazza and Monterosso, a fund has been set up by the Municipality of Monterosso at their official bank, Carispezia of Levanto.
-For transfers within Italy: Codice IBAN: IT64 W060 3049 8700 0004 6275 829

-For Transfers outside of Italy: SWIFT: CRFIIT2S365 
 *Please make a note on your transfer: “Help for Monterosso and Vernazza”.
The Italian Red Cross is another great way to donate. The Red Cross is helping enormously in the Cinque Terre, even providing makeshift schools for the children while the parents are busy working the clean-up. They have set up a disaster relief fund for the entire area affected by this storm, including the lesser known towns that may be worse off just because they don't have the attention that the Cinque Terre has. Your donations will be put to work right away!

You can donate by credit card and PayPal directly on their website:
-Select “Emergency Tuscany and Liguria” for the preferred fund and if you are in the US, choose "Stati Uniti" for your country.
"Save Vernazza" is an Italian non-profit which was started by an American expat group in Vernazza for donating directly to Vernazza. Their website, entirely in English, accepts payments by credit card and Paypal. They will certainly do a great job of allocating funds with less bureaucratic backup than the Italians! They also keep their site updated with pictures and news coming from the workers. To donate to their fund, click here.

***For more information on donating to Vernazza, click here.***
But the most important thing you can do to help is to support the 5 Terre with your business. The shops and restaurants are destroyed for the time being, but all the rooms are located well above any damage and should be unscathed. Vernazza should be open for business next season, so come back and visit soon and tell everyone you know to visit!
Sunday afternoon the workers and remaining residents were rewarded with a hot lunch all together in their piazza. Spirits are up and there is such a strong comradery to bring Vernazza back. The best thing they have though, is the amazing Italian heart and soul of the people and the generous outpouring of love and support to keep them going strong. Vernazza will come back from this and continue to win the hearts of new generations to come. FORZA RAGAZZI!!!
For updated information, click the label "Vernazza Updates" for all related stories.  
For donation information to help Vernazza, click here.
The Cinque Terre is open! Click here for details. 


  1. Jennifer from Phoenix31 October, 2011 04:23

    Thank you for this blog and the pictures. My husband and I got married in Vernazza on October 7th of this year. We were in Cinque Terra for four days (altogether in Europe for two weeks) and our time in Vernazza was my favorite. It wasn't just because of the wedding. I've been all over Europe and Italy before and when it was time to pick a spot for our wedding, I fell in love with Cinque Terra from a far. It was a beautiful and wonderful experience.

    I heard about the flooding and devastation from my wedding planner this past Thursday. My heart breaks for the people of this area and I've been combing the internet for pictures and updates.

    God bless the people who are cleaning up and rebuilding. We'll be back to visit and have told all our friends they have to see this little piece of paradise.

    Phoenix, Arizona USA

  2. Thanks so much for this blog!
    It's so important to help all those fantastic people working so hard since last tuesday, and to inform on how we can help, from everywhere in the world...


  3. I have only just realized the extent of the damage caused by the flooding, news coverage here (Australia) was very light and I did not know that it was Vernazza and Monterosso that were so badly affected. We spent a couple of days in Vernazza in Spring and loved the town and people so much that we were ready to pack up all our belongings and make it our home, a nice dream to have. It is so sad to see the devastation caused by nature, but I can't imagine the people giving up and letting Vernazza become a ghost town and as soon as we can afford it, we'll be back to show our support.

    Thank you for providing such good information and heartfelt wishes that these wonderful towns can recover completely and provide more of us with a special and much loved experience.


  4. I got to your blog from my Rick Steves newsletter. I was about to discard it because I simply did not have time to read it when out of the corner of my eye I saw the headline "Disaster hits the Cinque Terre". That got my attention and now, it seems like my busy workday can wait. I've been combing through your blog (which led me to others) and I'm speachless as I view all of the pictures.

    I haven't been back to the Cinque Terre in 10 years and it has been calling to me of late. Now I know I must return and show my support by (at least) being a tourist once again. Meanwhile, please keep us informed on this blog (thanks for what you do) and please post any "legit" relief organizations that you know of for those who may wish to contribute to the relief effort.

  5. Thank you for the detailed story. I had heard of this from Rick Steves, but am so glad of the updates showing such great progress. I have been to Vernazza and loved it, so I will return.

  6. Thank you for posting this. We visited these towns in 2009 and I had not even heard a whisper of this event. God bless, help and sustain the good people of Cinque Terre!

  7. Thank you for your coverage--my husband and I were just there on the 19th. It's difficult to even conceive of this damage. Truly devastating.

  8. Thank you so much for all this information. My husband and I were headed here Nov. 18 and 19. We're still trying to sort out what we should do.... such a shame.

  9. We were in Vernazza for our 4th visit in February of this year. It was so wonderful to visit during this quiet time. The Blue Marlin and Tratoria Da Sandra were our havens outside our lovely little room overlooking the harbor. We are heartbroken and send love and blessings to everyone there. We will return in person as soon as we are financially able. Meanwhile, our hearts are there.

  10. We left Monterosso the day before the storm hit. We are still in shock, and especially disturbed that we didn't even know what had happened until yesterday (thanks to Facebook; so much for U.S. news sources). The entire Cinque Terre region is absolutely beautiful and the people fabulous. Positive thoughts and prayers to all in the region, of course, but thanks for the information on how we can send even more.

  11. It is such a rush of emotions to see our holiday paradise spoiled. We had been swimming in this very harbour just 1 month ago. My thoughts and heart are with the people of Vernazza.
    Nevertheless it is not that simple as to blame cruel mother nature - we all are responsible for climate changes, provoking extreme weather conditions like these. And it is known that the steep hillsides are endangered when the walls are no longer maintained and agriculture is on retreat. A 1000 years tradition - but what will the future bring to it?

  12. The first thing I did was donate money,prayers are powerful, and needed, but money and manpower is what's going to get the job done...We all need to help from the comfort of our homes to help those whose homes are disasters
    I'm currently obsessed with photos of progress (Just want to look forward from all this)so any update photos are a joy...Thanks!

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  14. We stayed in this most beautiful part of the world just a few short weeks before this disaster. Heartbroken for the people of Vernazza for what they have endured. Let's hope Mother Nature has finished with her destruction of this little piece of paradise. As the Maori say, kia kaha (stay strong). Love and light to all.

  15. How did the Hotel 5 Terre, in Monterosso al Mare, where I've enjoyed two wonderful stays in recent years, fare? And how is Andrea, the popular gentleman I met in an enoteca there three years ago and who is one of the friendliest people I've ever known, (Ciao, Andrea!) and who makes the best pesto in Italy?
    I do hope all the charming people and places I've enjoyed so much in Monterosso have survived and will recover and thrive again.
    I wish I could be there now to help; for sure I'll return as soon as I can -- hopefully to share some local wine with Andrea and hear his stories of the flood, its aftermath and the heroes who, even as I write this, are working to restore my favorite town on Earth.
    - Steven Amick, Beavercreek, Oregon, USA

  16. My gosh. We had lunch in the little restaurant atop the small tower by the sea when we were there a few years ago. A truly beautiful town and this brings me great sadness.

  17. My granddaughter and I enjoyed 3 beautiful days in Vernazza in July. We walked the beautiful pathways above the town to Monterossa and back the other way to Corniglia,partied with the locals and cooled off in the sea. We thought we could stay forever. Our hearts, in far away Sydney Australia, are with all the beautiful people of this wonderful town, we know they are resilient and the town will rise again from the mud and debris.

  18. Nicole- thank you for this sad update. The photos are devastating. I, like many travelers, loved my time in vernazza& thecinque Terre region.

    Please let us know what we can do to help. Can we get fedex supply shipments through now? I'd imagine there is a delay...
    I will track down everyone I know who went there..I'm sure they would give $100 or supplies. I have been waiting for a donation line that takes credit cards, directfy for vernazza. I saw the per vernazza info but it is only via wire. I'd prefer to give directly to the blue marlin fund rather than the IT red cross.

    Please send our healing thoughts to the wonderful people of vernazza. If any of them could use a California getaway, we've got an extra room in San Diego. I know its trivial but We heard they had evacuated today:( so heartbreaking.

    Lastly- This needs more US news coverage. Vernazza was such an amazing welcoming place for so many people I know& I'm sure all those who visited would be happy to lend a rebuilding hand. Thank you again. Rd522 on twitter, instagram.

  19. Thanks to my girlfriend Kate I discovered your blog. It is so good to have finally have the perspective of someone in Vernazza. Wishing you all the very best and truly believe Vernazza will return to its once beauty and charm. Megan in Lerici :)

  20. Thank you for your excellent coverage!! The stories and photos are heartbreaking. I love this part of Italy with all my heart and soul. I will contact you and carry forth with your idea to Fed Ex supplies if I am able. I'm assuming even a little bit would help. God Bless the people of Vernazza e Monterosso!!! Valorie

  21. I want to visit bella Vernazza on New Year's Eve. Even more now.

  22. Kitty, Santa Rosa, CA05 November, 2011 18:39

    Thank you Nicole for your coverage on 5Cinque. As you said, there has been no reporting by US media. We are so involved in the economic crisis, we forget the human crisis around us. I was in Vernazza on Sept. 20. I was greeted with a wonderfully sunny day. I had lunch at Gambero Rosso. It was a 3-star entree, followed by a lemoncello sorbet. I mention this because, our comedian/waiter refused to serve us something chocolate, insisting we needed something to cleanse our palate. He was so right!! Afterwards, I walked though the village, observing the people,so have an insight to the pride & courage of the Italian people. I wish I could be there to pass out hugs!

  23. Thanks, Nicole. Though it's heartbreaking to see these photos of the destruction to this place I love so much, it's good to know that there are ways to help. Dio benedica le gente di Vernazza e Monterosso al Mare.

  24. My husband and I stayed nearly a week in Vernazza earlier this year 2011 for our honeymoon...the places destroyed were ones we of course visited during our stay. I am hearbroken for the locals and will surely contribute.

  25. We stayed in the Cinque Terre in 2009 and loved every minute of it. Please thank the workers and volunteers who are rebuilding and cleaning. I am filled with joy to hear that there is light at the end of the tunnel!

  26. Dearest Nicole, thank you for your heartfelt coverage of the devastation cause in Vernazza. I was truly shocked when my girlfriend from Australia emailed me of the news. Both my husband and I live in the UK and met my girlfriend in Lucca on 26 September 2011. We went to Cinque Terre for a day and loved Vernazza and found the people to be warm and friendly. We pray for the people of Vernazza not to lose hope but to rebuild their lives. We pray that the Lord will restore to them, everything that they have lost and that during these already hard times, people will give generously to support them to rebuild their lives and re-establish their businesses. I have no doubt that Vernazza will once again be an outstanding historical village swarming with tourists. God Bless people of Vernazza


I really appreciate your comments.

Vernazza Updates:

Vernazza is well on its way to normalcy and while I no longer write updates on their status, you can learn about the devastating floods of 2011 by clicking the label "Vernazza Updates". For the latest information from the organizations in Vernazza and Monterosso, visit SaveVernazza and Rebuild Monterosso.

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