WHEN I WAS 16, my family went on a 3-week summer vacation in Europe. It was my first major trip abroad. I was a brat.
I distinctly remember opting to sleep in and hang out in the hotel room rather than spend a day walking around Venice. I got a wicked sunburn on a Rhine river cruise and complained about the number of castles we were visiting.
My little sister followed my lead. We were spoiled and it was ugly.
Then we hit the Cinque Terre — five medieval villages strung along 15 miles of scarped Ligurian coast. Basing ourselves in Vernazza (village #4), we hiked the trail connecting the towns. We played around on the rocks of the jetty. We ate pesto. There wasn’t much to complain about.
Last October, a freak storm devastated Cinque Terre. Runoff poured down the mountain above Vernazza, gushing through the town’s single main street on its way to the sea:
People were unprepared for flooding of this magnitude. Three residents of Vernazza were killed. The town was left submerged under four meters of mud and debris.
Three Americans living in the town have founded the nonprofit Save Vernazza. Their goal is to raise awareness of a story that went largely unreported in U.S. media and solicit donations, with the hope that the town can be rebuilt in time for this summer’s tourist season. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park and receives 2.5 million annual visitors.
Check out the Save Vernazza website for some pretty intense survivor stories and more information on the town’s history and last October’s natural disaster.