On October 25, 2011, massive flooding and mudslides devastated Vernazza, burying the town under 4m/13ft. of mud and debris.
Floodwaters reached second story windows, wiped out road and rail connections and left residents without water, gas or electricity. Three people tragically drowned. Homes, businesses and territory were destroyed.
Right from the start, volunteers and citizens worked heroically to begin reconstruction.
Save Vernazza is a non-profit organization founded by three American women to help REBUILD, RESTORE, and PRESERVE Vernazza’s town, territory and culture for future generations.
Save Vernazza’s founders arrived in Vernazza years ago, fell in love with the town, its people and its territory and moved here to create families, businesses and friendships. We are a part of this community and passionate in our work to create a sustainable future for Vernazza.
Together we can make a difference.
Who We Are
RUTH MANFREDI, Founder and President
Ruth Manfredi, a former strategy consultant, environmental entrepreneur and New Yorker, met her husband in Vernazza in 1995 and they married there in 2001. They spend summers and weekends with their two children in this beautiful little village by the sea. Ruth’s heart lives in Vernazza; it is her community, her home.
Working on Save Vernazza has lit a fire in Ruth’s soul. Helping rebuild, restore and preserve Vernazza has become her passion.
Ruth is coordinating the “Renaissance of Vernazza” project designed by architect Richard Rogers for the requalification of Vernazza’s public spaces.
Ruth worked as a Strategy management consultant at Accenture in New York and Milan, leading multi-country teams and producing results for clients in project management, marketing, business plan creation and innovation. Ruth was a founder and President of JM Associates, Inc., a New York environmental consulting company. In 1996, Ruth was elected and served as the President of the Board of Directors of the Environmental Business Association of New York State.
Ruth earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Master’s of International Studies from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College. In 2008, Ruth completed the inaugural course to become a Tour Guide for the Cinque Terre National Park.
MICHELE LILLEY, Founder and Vice President
Michèle Lilley, a native Californian and former television and film Production Manager, fell in love with Vernazza’s steep, green hillsides and blue seas over 13 years ago. It was there that she met her husband, local artist, Antonio Greco, with whom she started a family and opened Bottega d’Arte Cinqueterre on the main street of town.
On October 25, 2011, Michèle was in their Bottega d’Arte when the flooding began and narrowly escaped her storefront. She later described the devastation as “a powerful force of nature that ripped out the guts of town, the insides of our lives, and left them lying scattered in the street.”
Michèle is passionate about Vernazza’s unique territory and can often be found running the upper Cinque Terre trails, stopping to chat with local farmers. She explains: “If someone gives you fruit from their garden or a bottle of wine they produced, that person is giving you something to chew on: a piece of a proud, hardworking culture which has been passed down by generations to carve out a territory to call home.”
Michèle is coordinating the first “Volun-tourism” excursion in collaboration with Busabout and TreadRight. This unique effort promotes sustainable tourism in a territory that has been neglected over time due to changing climatic and socio-economic conditions. The program gives visitors a chance to work alongside locals in an authentic atmosphere, having fun and learning more about Vernazza.
In 2012, Michèle successfully organized the first Save Vernazza volunteer weekend by connecting study abroad students with Vernazza’s residents to help with the grape harvest. She developed and leads “Save Vernazza Walking Tours” to foster sustainable tourism.
MICHELE SHERMAN, Founder and Director
Michele Sherman was born in New York City and lived the majority of her childhood in northern New Jersey. As a young adult, she relocated to San Francisco and there began her career as a Software Sales Account Executive.
In August 2005, she embarked on a 6 week solo backpacking trip. The Cinque Terre recommended to her as a “must see” by friends and Rick Steves, Michele specifically chose Vernazza as her home base for the intended short stay. In Vernazza, Michele met her future husband Giuliano and what was to be a 5 night stay resulted in over 6 years in Vernazza. She and Giuliano worked together running a successful B&B “Camere Giuliano” and raising their daughter Sofia.
In August of 2011, Michele and Sofia relocated to Lucca, Italy while still maintaining their strong ties to Vernazza. Michele founded a business to manage all electronic communications, including booking inquiries, reservations and confirmations, for a group of Vernazza accommodation providers. She and Sofia were not present for the catastrophe of October 25, 2011, but were thankfully able to provide housing in Lucca for friends displaced by the disaster.
In the late afternoon of October 25, 2011, Michele received word from Giuliano about the torrential rains and subsequent flooding. Losing contact with everyone in Vernazza soon after, Michele was able to connect with a friend in Monterosso to confirm the few details available. Immediatley jumping onto to youtube, Michele found the first posted video of the event, footage of the Monterosso flooding. For the next 20 hours, she diligently stayed at her computer, phone by her side, TV on, trying to put the pieces together. Only able to connect with friends who lived higher up in the mountains and still had phone coverage, a small group was in constant search of information and in constant contact with one another. Days would pass before any Vernazza information would reach the formal news sources.
Michele knew she wouldn’t be the only person living outside of the story to be devastated by what happened within. Aware of the effect Vernazza has on its’ visitors, she immediately felt there would be many others eager to help this special community in its time of need. We can all make a difference.