Outrage in Italy over 'shame' of Genoa flood chaos

ROME (Reuters) - Italy reacted with shock and outrage at the chronic bureaucratic and planning failures laid bare after severe flooding hit the northwestern city of Genoa, killing one man and leaving the streets of the medieval port city buried in mud and debris.

“The mud of Genoa, shame of a country,” read the front page headline of Italy’s biggest daily newspaper Corriere della Sera on Saturday after the flooding, which occurred less than three years after torrential floods in the same city killed seven people in 2011.

As heavy rain continued, civil protection authorities maintained a high alert until at least Monday but there were angry questions about how the city could be reduced to chaos, despite repeated warnings of a potential disaster.

Italy’s mountainous and unstable geography has always made the country vulnerable to natural disasters from floods to landslides and earthquakes. Genoa’s own position, between the sea and a ring of steep mountains, is particularly exposed to severe storms and flooding.

But administrative failures under successive governments, from unregulated building to poorly planned infrastructure and bureaucratic inertia have exacerbated the problems.

“What is really alarming is how little has been done in three years to make Genoa secure from another flooding disaster,” said Francesco Vincenzi, president of ANBI, a national association representing the organizations charged with overseeing flooding and water safety issues.

Italy’s deep economic crisis, which has seen public spending pared back to the bone in many areas, has made handling unexpected disasters more difficult but deeper systemic weaknesses have also been highlighted.

“The problem of water security in Italy isn’t mainly to do with resources, it’s about political will and bureaucracy,” Vincenzi said.


Governor Claudio Burlando estimated the damage to public infrastructure at some 200 million euros ($252.52 million) and as workers and volunteers began the cleanup, Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection authority, warned that the problems would persist over the weekend.

“We are still in full emergency,” he told a news conference. “The forecasts for the next few hours offer no relief at all for tomorrow and Monday.”

He admitted that authorities had failed to predict the huge volume of rain which fell in the space of a few hours. Parts of the city saw 700 mm of rain fall in 72 hours, not far short of the average rainfall of an entire year.

But he criticized delays in reinforcing the banks of the Bisagno river, the biggest in Genoa, which burst its swollen banks late on Thursday night and said it was a “scandal” that 35 million euros set aside for the work after the 2011 floods had not been spent because of a legal dispute.

The archbishop of Genoa, Angelo Bagnasco, called for “timely and massive” action by government to resolve the crisis and prevent similar disasters in future.

“Everyone knows what their responsibilities are,” he said, his clothes spattered with mud after a tour of affected areas.

“It’s absurd and shameful that bureaucracy of any kind should be blocking funds which are absolutely necessary for resolving these problems,” he said.

(1 US dollar = 0.7920 euro)

Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Stephen Powell