The before/after photographs are harrowing: in the first, a postcard-perfect Italian village, with pine-green shutters and lemon and rose façades, lapped by the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. In the next, the same village buried in a horrifying avalanche of mud, its harbor now the color and consistency of cement.
On October 25, flooding from a freak rainstorm devastated the town of Vernazza, one of the five villages that make up the celebrated Cinque Terre in Liguria . Rivers of water and mud cascaded down the steep and narrow streets, burying the town’s lowest levels in as much as 13 feet of debris, while also overwhelming the railroad tracks that provided the primary way in or out of Vernazza. (Part of the Cinque Terre’s allure is that four of its cliff-hugging villages are accessible only by train, boat, or hiking trail.)
The floods also wreaked havoc on the neighboring town of Monterosso (the Cinque Terre’s other villages were spared), and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents. Power, water, and communications services have yet to be fully restored. And the long hard work of digging out—of literally excavating these two towns from the earth that overtook them—has only just begun.
For those who wish to help, consider making a donation to Save Vernazza , a nonprofit organization founded by a group of American expatriates, all longtime residents of Vernazza, who are raising funds for the town’s reconstruction and preservation.
As I’m sure many T+L readers can as well, I can vividly recall the first time I laid eyes on Vernazza, 21 summers ago. I had hiked down from Monterosso, and as I rounded the hillside and saw Vernazza’s captivating harbor laid out below, my initial reaction was to laugh out loud: Are you KIDDING?
Like a lot of American visitors, I’d learned of the Cinque Terre from the travel writer Rick Steves, who has long included the villages in his Europe Through the Back Door guides. Rick has a moving tribute to Vernazza on his website, and reminds us that, along with contributing to Save Vernazza, the best support travelers can provide is to keep the Cinque Terre on our itineraries.