Images via Google Maps.
Four persons lost their lives and eight persons were seriously injured on Saturday night around 10 p.m. in Refrontolo township (Treviso province) when a flash flood took a group of party goers by surprise, washing away a tent where roughly one hundred persons had gathered for a dinner and festival.
Intense rains over the weekend struck in the heart of Prosecco country over a swath of land between the townships of Cison di Valmarino and Refrontolo (see maps above and below; the red dot denotes Refrontolo).
Up to 100 persons were injured by the flash floods and landslide, according to some reports.
The festival — the “festa degli omeni” (in local dialect) or “Men’s festival,” a yearly gathering — took place at the picturesque Molinetto della Croda (Croda Watermill), one of the area’s many historic mills.
Although official data has yet to be made public, the storms and a series of floods washed away “entire vineyards” of Glera grapes (destined to become Prosecco) according to some reports.
The president of the Veneto region and the Italian government have already launched investigations into the cause of the tragedy.
Initially, the Italian forest service reported that bales of hay had blocked the Lierza river, which runs through the pre-Alpine valley.
But in a post published yesterday, the forest service speculated that the expansion of vineyards and subsequent deforestation of the area may have been the cause.
“Hillsides planted to vine,” wrote the authors of the post, “do not offer the greatest resistance in the case of incessant rains” like the storms that struck the area over the weekend.
In an editorial published yesterday, Corriere della Sera wine writer Luciano Ferraro [no relation to the Ferraro family, owners of Bele Casel] argued that the area has been home to vineyards since the 1400s and that the migration of Italians to urban centers and the abandonment of farming areas like this one are more likely to blame.
“If vines were the problem in Italy’s hills,” he writes, “how to explain the figure published by ISPRA (Italy’s institute for environmental research and safeguards) according to which a million Italians live in landslide risk areas? Do they all live on hillsides planted to vine?”
“In the last twenty years,” he notes, “Italian forests have increased by 25-30 percent,” a figure reported by UNCEM (Italy’s union of mountain townships).
“According to the experts, the problem is that these are woods that occupy abandoned areas and they are everything but useful in safeguarding of the land.”
The issue of flash floods is particularly heart-wrenching for the inhabitants of this part of the Veneto region.
In 1963, a landslide caused a tsunami in the nearby Vajont river. Its humanmade dam (completed in 1959) was toppled. Scores of villages were washed away and roughly 2,000 persons lost their lives.
Although faulty engineering and poor water management planning were ultimately blamed for the catastrophe, the debate over who was responsible was highly politicized and dragged on for many years.
At least one local paper has reported that the Refrontolo flash flood is being a called a “small Vajont” by residents.