Sunday, 19 October 2014

Vajont, Erto and Longarone

The old river port of Codissago lies on the left bank of the River (Fiume in Italian) Piave.   
Una (my bicycle) and I arrived for the first time in Codissago  late on the evening of 29th August 1998.  I was visiting my old friend Umberto Olivier.  

Barbara checks out Umberto's pose.   [© Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

Please note that I have already posted in this blog here information concerning Codissago.  
The photograph on the right was taken outside Umberto's house in Via IX Ottobre, Codissago.   I stayed there that night and the next morning Umberto took us both on a tour round the villages surrounding the Vajont dam.

Umberto is a native of Longarone, and was in Milan on a business trip when the terrible events of the Vajont Dam Disaster of October 1963 occurred. As a result, he was the only member of his family to survive.

The events leading up to the disaster and the aftermath are the subject of Renzo Martinelli's film 'Vajont'.  The film features the attempts of the communist journalist Tina Merlin to alert the government to the effects of the construction of the Valont reservoir next to Monte Toc which, up to the night of the 9th October, had exhibited signs of an imminent landslide. This was in the form of movement cracks on the north face bordering the lake, and cracks forming in the walls of building in the villages around the lake.

At 10.39 pm more than the usual number of people were in the three inns of Longarone watching the football match between Real Madrid and Glasgow Rangers, when the disaster happened.

260 million cubic metres of rock (marked 'FRANA DEL MONTE TOC' on the map below) slipped off the north face of Monte Toc into the reservoir causing huge waves, big enough, for example, to take the roof off the schoolhouse at Casso.  Most of the small villages around the lake were reduced to rubble.  

If you examine the map below carefully you will see a shape like a crescent moon, but black in colour.  This is the barrier of the original reservoir.  The lake (Lago del Vajont) itself has been shifted about two kilometres east as a result of the vast landslide.  

To extract water from the lake, engineers have bored a tunnel (dotted blue lines) through the debris of the landslip; today the Vajont reservoir provides water for HEP (hydro electric power) and also water for the irrigation of crops.

Map showing the location of Castello Lavazzo, Codissago and Longarone [Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 21]

Below the reservoir, to the west, Longarone was wrecked and buried under mud.  Codissago was also severely damaged.  Over 2000 people died.  Tina Merlin's book Sulla Pelle Viva tells the whole story on which the film is based.

Lago del Vajont and Erto, San Martino and Pineda [Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 21]

Umberto drove us both around the Vajont valley in his car.  After 35 years, life had returned to some sort of normality, though pain and resentment were still there to see. 

Erto in 1998  [© Peter Alexander Gray 1998]
SADE (Società Adriatica di Elettricità) - the Italian energy monopoly - built the dam  despite warnings that the entire side of Monte Toc was unstable and would likely collapse into the reservoir if the filling were completed.

Construction was completed in 1963 and in March of that year the dam was transferred to the newly constituted government service for electricity, ENEL. During the following summer, with the reservoir almost completely filled, tremors and cracks in the ground were continuously reported by worried local people.  All the authorities, including the government, ignored the reports.  The sign on the wall in the photo above says SADE + ENEL + Government = 2500 dead.

Today, much of the site of the old town of Longarone has been redeveloped as industrial units bringing greatly-needed employment in the form of light manufacturing.   The timber industry is still much in evidence, too.  There is a new church in the town which is also a memorial to the people in the area who died in 1963.

I'm sorry that the subject of this month's post is such a sad one.  In the next post will continue the journey south along the riverside towards Belluno.

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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