Suddenly the seagulls that sat on the roofs of the west wing took off high above the Golfo Paradiso. That was an unmistakable sign, a macabre announcement. A worker was filming with his cell phone, it went very quickly, then with a loud bang the front part of the old cemetery of Camogli with its seven-story urn wall and four family chapels fell into the sea. 200 coffins slipped into the water on Monday, some rocked on the waves. Gravestones and urns also ended in the rubble and mud. An apocalyptic scene in the beautiful Golfo Paradiso on the Ligurian coast, not far from Genoa.
There weren’t any visitors in the cemetery when what had to happen at some point happened. This part is closed on Mondays. For some time now, however, many people have not dared to go to lay flowers for their loved ones anyway. They knew about the fragile soil under the spectacularly situated cemetery, built more than 150 years ago, the final resting place of seafarers, shipbuilders and fishermen – the people of the sea.
For the mayor, the rock fall could not have been foreseen
The earth had been eroding under the tombs for a long time. In recent years storm surges have often lashed against the rocks in a way that had never been seen here before. And then it rained incessantly that winter, sometimes for weeks. The mayor of Camogli, Francesco Olivari, says nevertheless: “Such a rock fall is unpredictable.” Olivari, you have to know, is a geologist. But of course he too had foreseen the event.
Work has been going on to strengthen the ledge since last autumn, and the Italian state had given millions in aid. It’s not just nature that gnaws and tears at the popular coast. Decades of construction speculation have ravaged the area, the buildings press with tons of weight on the fragile ground, and river beds were often concreted over to create more space for real estate.
Camogli is a picturesque, small place with colorful houses and an old fishing port, which in summer inflates itself into a medium-sized city with second home owners from Milan and Turin and with tourists from abroad. Now coffins were flooding into the pretty harbor. Only ten could be brought ashore by Monday evening, they are stacked on the pier. The coastal police immediately put oil barriers in the Gulf, as they are used to contain spilled oil after environmental disasters. The barriers are designed to intercept the coffins that otherwise drift out to sea – with the bones of people who had spent their lives at sea.
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