Italy: after the flood, fighting the mud

world mirror

Status: 04.06.2023 4:25 p.m

Floods are known in northern Italy. But the flood of May surpassed everything. The clean-up work is still ongoing. And above all there is the question: How can such catastrophes be prevented in the future?

In Forlì, one of the most affected cities, Diego Gottarelli seems depressed: For weeks he has been coordinating volunteers who shovel mud out of cellars street by street. But it’s not tiredness that’s bothering him, it’s his conscience.

Gottarelli does that ARD team to a farm on the outskirts of town. Because the mud is about 40 centimeters deep, it can only be reached with an off-road vehicle. The swamp covers the ground of the courtyard, the meadow, the fields and vines all around.

Around 20 men and one woman work here, pushing mud aside with shovels and excavators. Gottarelli gets out of the SUV. The farmer who lives here is not there at the moment. The masses of water had flooded his apartment on the ground floor. Four cars, two motorcycles and two tractors are covered in mud and are unusable. Clothes hang to dry in the former stable.

Gottarelli then explains what is bothering him: the helpers he has coordinated have only been working here since this morning, exactly two weeks after the flood. They had simply overlooked the courtyard beforehand, and the residents’ requests for help were lost in the control center. Unfortunately, something like this also happens in catastrophes of this magnitude.

A chain that led to catastrophe

Everything came together so that this flood of the century could occur: the particularly dry winter had hardened the loamy soil so that it could not absorb any water. Then it rains intensively in early May, and the first rivers burst their banks. And finally, within 36 hours, half a year’s worth of rain pours down on the already oversaturated soil.

The result: small rivers become torrents, they break through or overflow dams, flooding large parts of the country and cities such as Faenza, Cesena and Forlì. The situation is particularly acute in Ravenna. In order to save the historic old town, the authorities decide to direct the water above the city to fields.

According to initial estimates by the regional administration, a total of 439,000 hectares of agricultural land will be flooded. Emilia Romagna is considered the “orchard” of Italy, the production worth around 1.5 billion euros is destroyed.

The Emilia-Romagna region is also well known to German holidaymakers for its popular seaside resorts on the Adriatic: Riccione, Rimini, Cesenatico. At Ravenna, some beaches near estuaries are now closed because the muddy waters have washed E. coli into the sea. The authorities assume a rapid dilution, until then the water quality will be checked daily.

The parasols are again accurate

The beaches are now largely prepared and furnished after the storms: Thousands of obrelloni, the sunshades, stand in neat rows of 20 almost into the water. Similar to the optimized use of the beaches, the people in Emilia-Romagna have understood in the past how to get as much out of the country as possible in the hinterland.

Settlements are fraying, large industrial areas line the highways, many fields are intensively cultivated thanks to water being distributed through a wide network of canals. Every square meter of ground here on the level appears developed. There is obviously no room for sudden masses of water.

The water buried everything, the mud remained – also in this greenhouse in Emilia-Romagna.

The demands of the city planners

The areas should not continue to be used so intensively, demands spatial planner Valentina Orioli, professor at the University of Bologna. Due to global warming, the next severe storm should not be long in coming.

Orioli is calling for parts of towns to be abandoned or agricultural areas above cities to be declared natural flood plains. However, it is not to be expected that the Meloni government will tackle such far-reaching and conflicting plans.

Now there’s a lot of work to do: the masses of rubbish have to be disposed of as quickly as possible, the sludge clinging to them could be contaminated. There is a lack of capacity in the incinerators, and parking lots are used as makeshift landfills. The flood of the century produced 100,000 tons of waste, which is the average amount in ten months.

After the floods in Italy, the death toll has risen to 14. The clean-up work is underway.

hope for the state

In the farm on the outskirts of Forlì, Mino Orioli comes down the stairs, the farmer who has been waiting for help for two weeks. He seems relaxed, almost happy. “Now the helpers are here,” he says happily. He was able to save the dogs, that’s good, and also two of his bee colonies. Otherwise everything is destroyed, no insurance will cover that.

The farmer hopes for government support. “Why should I cry, it is what it is,” he says calmly. His optimism seems indomitable in view of the flood of the century in Emilia-Romagna.

You can see this and other reports in Weltspiegel – on Sunday at 6.30 p.m. in the first.

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