gas….gas….gas….same in italian as English….you could smell it everywhere

This blog was written a few days after we left Cinque Terre. We were in Vernazza the day of the flooding/landslide: Thurs. Oct 27. We arrived in Florence last night after a harrowing experience in Cinque Terre (CT) our first day 10-24 in CT was very nice. We hiked a section of the trail from Monterosso Al Mare to Vernazza…..overcast and light sprinkle but still lovely. that was enough of a hike for us, but we looked around Vernazza and decided to come back the next day Tues, 10-25 for lunch and then hike from there. So we came back the next day. It was raining a bit, but we thought it would brighten up. We stopped in for cappacino and dolce and waited out the rain…soon it started raining inside the place…..not a good sign…..oh well……went out took some pictures in a light rain, then off to lunch…..we headed up a side street to Ristorante Incadase Da Piva…..we were the only customers and we had a wonderful lunch. During lunch it started raining harder and harder, oh, well, we ll have more vino!! Soon a lady rushes in hysterical because the street a short block below us had turned into a raging river…..shh….shhh…..everyone calmed her down, no problemo, the lights were flashing on and off……at times we just had the generator light….no problem. We started looking out the door at the water rushing below….Whoo! typical?? i asked…, no..people began to get worried about their friend with a shop on the Via Rosa the street below us. Then all of the sudden they all start yelling in the restaurant and rushed out. My husband, Kevin says to me landslide!!!! let’s go QUICKLY!!(he had HEARD the landslide) We were the last ones out and we followed the restaurant staff and owner up and up people were rushing around turning off their gas….gas….gas….same in italian as Enlgish….you could smell it everywhere…..the gas main had broken in the street…so we all have rushed out of the restaurant following the locals up and up these tiny winding alleys through the residential areas….the gas smell is strong everywhere and people are really panicking-crying, yelling.

We contemplate between staying under cover in walkways where the smell is stronger and going into the open areas getting drenched in the torrential rain….you can hear the water rushing down the main street in town, Via Roma. and see it in sections. It’s now muddy like a river,with all the ground from the mountain in it….it’s rising quickly….the rain begins to slow to a trickle and we say to each other we got to get out of here…there are no police that we can see, no one seems to be taking charge.. hmmm….doesnt seem to be any emergency plan, what to do in case of landslide and flood …the train station is basically covered in mudand rock ,we can’t reach it anyway as there is a raging river between us and it……we decided to check out the trail that leads to the next town Corniglia, thinking we could hike out. We are dressed pretty well, as we planned to hike that day, hiking boots, rain jackets, layers , hats… we start out, its pretty steep going out but not as steep as the trail we hiked yesterday….and today we have more motivation and adrenalin! We head up and get to some pretty narrow sections that are now slippery. you can see the once beautiful water full of mud-debris from the landslide, and oh what is that?, a propane gas tank leaking in the water (i have pics). The rain starts hard again, im pretty much drenched to the skin, but it’s not cold and no worse than a 15 mile run in the rain…..I even have my wicking hat-gloves….but perhaps this wasn’t a good idea as we see that a slip will basicallylead to a 50ft. drop off the cliff. Should we turn around or keep going? The decision is soon made for us as we get to a part of the trail that is impassable because of a landslide……ok…..we had walked about 20 min.and got nothing but drenched, but we turn around and are now heading down on this slippery trail in the pouring rain……we get back to town safely……although its hardly a safe place…..things seem worse…….the water in the main street has covered the entire first floor of buildings. We can see signs from the top of shops barely showing above the water… So we wander around back in town and find some Americans that we had talked to earlier from Washington State…turns out that the woman works for Rick Steves Tours-Guidebooks,and they are on a R.Steves tour. We stand around with these 4 people and 2 more tourists from Australia in this covered walkway… it is getting cold since we are standing still…..the Aussies are complaining that none of the Italians are opening their doors and taking us in. In Australia they would never leave people standing out side in a natural disaster….i point out that the locals are watching their shops being destroyed, and cars and boats floating out to sea and are worrying about the old nonnas and children that people are taking to higher ground……the tourists are not their first priority! Anyway i dont know if i want to go in a house anyway as the gas smell is so strong coming from inside when anyone opens a door. After about 60 min. of standing around we go into a covered doorway opening and a women (who is really upset) lets us in……grazie millie!!! No, the bathroom can’t be used….the sewage water has risen up to the top…….no electricity, but they have candles lit…..ok,this makes me a little nervous……and the grandmother who looks about 90 is sitting on the couch. They bring in chairs for us, cover them in plastic as we are all dripping all over. Then we sit and chat (sorta) for another hour or so….as I’m watching these tall tapers burn down i feel like im in a movie, and this is showing the passage of time…… The husband is running back and forth helping out (doing what ?) in town…..probably getting people out of first floor buildings. Soon he comes back and tells us that there is a place for people like us…..with food-water……he will take us there. So we follow this local to a large outdoor patio at a restaurant at the Castle….the highest point in town overlooking the harbor. There are about 100 to 200 people there wrapped in tableclothes to stay warm….it was nice to be out of the rain. There was heavy plastic tied around the patio so it was almost like being inside…they had those outdoor patio heaters going and people were hanging around. We talked to other tourists for a while and found out that those who were in restaurants on the main street at the time of the flood-landslide were in water up to their thighs, then they started standing on tables….men were holding the doors to keep the doors from breaking down. .they finally got out when people cut the bars on high windows…..we were happy that we choose our lunch place on the street a bit higher! About 8:30 pm they broke out a bunch of great food from the restaurant, incredible mussels in a faboulous sauce, meat, cheese etc. We had a flashlight in our backpack, so my husband, Kevin stood with the light over the food while they served. one of the men owned the restaurant and was supplying everthing, the other who was serving just had his perfume shop and car destroyed. despite the tragedy the mood was festive….eventually i met a young couple from Houston. They had a room in town, that was high up…..they invited to stay with them that night in their extra bed…since there was no way we were leaving the town that night. We took them up on this offer, since the native seemed to be staying in this patio restaurant all night, and it was starting to get cold… gets very cold there in the mountains at night. We had found out the night before. So off we went with our new friends, lindsay and thomas. it was nice to finally get out of the all of our wet clothes. we had a pretty restless night, but at least it was in a bed….kevin and i shared a single bed! The next morning we went back to the restaurant patio to see what was going on. We watched the coast guard boats come in and drop off rescue workers…..we also watched helicopters drop off rescue workers… hour or so went by and it looked like nothing was happening in terms of dealing with the tourists (us). So we decided to work through town and see if there was anyway to get to the train station and then maybe walk along the tracks to get out of town…..So we start wandering around town the next morning, trying to figure out how we are going to get out of town…..there is no electricity, no water, no workig toilets, no trains out, and the sea looks really rough so we dont know how long it will take the ferry to get there to take people out. We figure that the way out will probably be by ferry, but will that be in a few hours or the next day? We head towards the train station. There used to be a pretty tall set of stairs leading up to the train station……now the train station is even with the rest of the mountain, which has covered all of these stairs…….we head that way, and see a small path, we are probably trespassing on peoples property at this point, but does it really matter? We climb over some debris, and see a possible path to the train station. There is a young Italian man shoveling dirt off a level floor…..Thomas, (of the Houston couple who shared their room with us) goes out to scout the path to see if the rest of us could make it…..he walks along the top of a stone wall, hops down, talks a bit to this guy, and then crosses the flowing river, which at this point is not very wide, over a door that the guy has put down. We find out this guy is shoveling out the inside of his house, which has been destroyed, looking for personal belongings….we see his smashed computer and other stuff in the mud. he was wiped out, physically and emotionally. Thomas continues down over the mud and debris to the train station….he talks to some train employees, and figures out that YES it is possible for some tourists to travel on the tracks….small maintenance cars (smaller than a caboose) are bringing in workers. when they head back out to Corneglia, the next town, we could catch a ride….but no luggage, people only (at least that’s what Tom thought he said). In the meantime Kevin goes down and starts helping this guy shovel…..the guy seems ready to take a break, and Kevin is ready to DO something…then kevin goes down and negotiates with the train workers in italian (he has gotten good!) and hand gestures, and it is decided that we could have 2 suitcases among the 4 of us on the maintence car….since our suitcases were back in Riamigorria, this got Tom and Linday’s suitcases on the car…..which was coming very soon…….so Tom and Lindsay RUN back to their hotel, down muddy paths, up millions of steps in town, up 3 floors to their room, to grab their suitcases and get back as quickly as possible……we wait to help them carry their suitcases, passing them from person to person over the trail, down some sections, over the door over the river, etc. and eventually to the train tracks…..the guy shoveling his house helps us, as do some other random locals. We make it to the train tracks and the car is already there!!!! We run to the car, squeeze our way in, and then a few other people show up (they had a toddler with them, which got them the ride) and squeeze in after us….the train guys jump on and we are off!!! Lindsay and Tom are still huffing from the run back……its about a 5 minute train ride and we remember to take a few pictures……then we make it to the next town, where we get off, grazie mille!!!! (thousand thanks) to all the train people and then we wait for the next real train running from Corneglia. We get on….phew!! we made it….we say goodbye to L & T . They are heading to La Spezia and from there directly to Florence. Kevin and I jump off at Riamigiiorre where we had our room. We trudge up the hill, and stop at the grocery store which is just getting ready to close….when we tell them where we had been, they give us bread and cheese and water all for free….they had heard of the disaster! Everything was fine there. But another town Monterosso Al Mare, had been hit badly as well. We ate, shower, Ahhh…..and head off to settle our bill…..the booking lady was a New Yorker who had moved to CT in 1979…..we showed her pictures of the disaster on our camera…..very sad for all the towns. Off to the train again, this time to La Spezia and from there to Florence… now it is a BEAUTIFUL warm day, and the water is glistening in the sunlight, and I am so sad to be leaving Cinque Terre!!! People in town said that it would take 3 to 5 years to rebuild the two towns that were hit! hopefully we will come back again.

St. Louis, MO USA

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