The Night of the Tornado

A couple of nights ago, between the fourth and fifth of March, I was awakened shortly after midnight by a howling wind, frightening in its intensity. It was wuthering heights at its most dramatic. At a certain moment it seemed as if my whole house was shaking. I’d never come across anything like this, not even in the UK’s “great storm” of 1989 which changed the landscape of my beloved north downs for at least the next three hundred years, so many trees had been flattened (thank you Michael Fish!).

The sound of the wind was awesome. I felt I was very near if not inside a jet turbine engine.

In the morning I took a recky after a very sleepless night to see if there was any damage to my property.  Both Christmas trees were down and even the lemon tree on the veranda had collapsed and its lovely earthenware pot shattered. Looking on the bright side of things I noted that there was still a roof on my house. I needed to keep an appointment in Lucca that morning but every time I tried to get out of the house I was blown back as were the trees I had uprighted for umpteenth time. It was no occasion to go anywhere! I tried to phone to cancel the appointment – no phone. The electricity has also gone and is still down now over twenty four hours later. My cell phone didn’t work on ANY chip. That network was down too. Of course, there was no chance of using the internet.

Fortunately, I had my little battery radio and heard that hurricane force winds had devastated much of central Italy. Yet just around my house I noted no great damage except for the phone and electricity lines and posts that had been thrown down. I visited a near neighbour who asked me “have you heard?” “What?” I answered. “You won’t recognize Bagni di Lucca any more now,” he answered. “The streets are littered with fallen roof tiles, the trees in the public gardens have been all brought down, there is no electricity and most of the shops are closed. There’s no phone. A whole wall near Petri’s hotel has fallen. The devastation is hard to believe”.

I returned home in time to meet two intrepid neighbours from Guzzano on a walk. “The roofs have been brought down in San Gemignano. The parish church is open to the elements. It’s a place which has been seriously battered and the number of trees brought down is immense…”

Eventually, in the afternoon, when the winds seemed to have quietened down a little, I ventured out intrepidly on my scooter avoiding as best I could all the branches that were in my way on the road and trusting that no further branches would fall on me. At least I had my crash helmet on.

I took a first look at my field. The trees were still there, including the olive and fruit trees. My bench was there but where was my shed? Flattened, quite flattened with all my previous equipment, including rotivator, lawn mower, bush trimmer etc open to the elements. I carted off, my gardening books stored there before they might be reduced to pulp. At least the shed is a pre-fabricated wooden structure which can be re-erected, hopefully in time before any opportunists take a look at what it housed.

I was in tears when I saw San Gemignano. The streets reminded me of those war correspondent film footages shot in Iraq and Syria. Broken tiles lay everywhere on the road, roof spars lay bare to the skies; tenacious inhabitants were out clearing up the mess with brooms and shovels. Some were attempting to cover empty holes in their roof with plastic and felt. I’d never seen anything like this, not even during that great storm in the UK back in 1989. My friend’s house there was particularly badly hit. I helped her yesterday to put some felt on one of her outbuildings containing valuable gardening equipment. But it was obvious that life would now have to continue just on the ground floor for quite a while.

The beautiful Romanesque church was exposed and its exquisite baroque altars with valuable sixteenth century paintings were now subject to the vacillations of the weather. Most of the cars, of course, were wrecked with big dents in their bodywork and shattered windscreens. Some had actually been moved several yards from their original spot in the comunale car park by the force of the wind.

So this is what a Caribbean hurricane or Philippine typhoon may be like I hinted at myself. And then I thought “but are there any victims?” Yes, there sadly were:  one lad dead through a falling pediment and two women in intensive care when a tree fell on their car.

The road between San Gemignano and Pieve di Controni was still being cleared by a special work group who worked quickly and efficiently with their petrol saws and bulldozers. I was impressed at how much of our paths of communication had been cleared. Some things may work slowly in Italy but when it comes to natural calamities then it’s quite frequent that all stops can be pulled out.

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For this is a natural calamity, the worse in living memory that has hit our area. No-one, not even the oldies, can remember anything like it. Of course, we’ve had earthquakes, floods, excessive snow falls, drought and landslides thrown at us but nothing like this!

Be careful for a shock when you come to Bagni di Lucca. The central gardens are just a sorry remnant of what they used to be like. It is all so sad, so very sad that it’s bringing tears to my eyes as I write this. But chin up, I’m going to help my worse afflicted friends with a least a broom. I wish it were a magic one! And at least, the trees haven’t leaved yet. What future devastation that would have brought! And the number of casualties is unfortunate but far less than expected.

Who still says climate change is a cry for wolf?”

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5 thoughts on “The Night of the Tornado

  1. How scarey what a horrendous event this must have been I have only experienced the UK event and that was truly sad however I feel that there is an opportunity to do something for Bagni di Lucca maybe create a plant a tree day week by the looks of things. Pines can be planted in heavy planters instead of direclty into the soil it would I feel be safer and the trees would be more manageable remain smaller and not create such havoc just an idea! Another idea is to create a long standing sculpture(no pun intended!) a sort of totem from all that wood that is now available pine wood though is hard to sculpt so a strong person or person with skills of chainsaw is needed the day needs to be recorded. The Look of the Gardens can be altered whether we like it or not they have altered so let us celebrate Spring with a different Look! Spare a thought for us that are away it will be more of a shock to us than others seeing it and comprehending it on a daily basis what a terrible thought! Sad about our tool shed and the vanishing tools maybe someone has put them away for safekeeping!

  2. It does indeed look like a war zone. Wouldn’t that ne nice if someone has put your tools away safely!

    I’ve experienced cyclones in Australia, at least we get warning that they’re coming and can prepare a little bit.

  3. Pingback: Getting to the Root of the Problem | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

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