On November 2, floods hit the plain between Florence, Prato and Pistoia, and since I live about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Campi Bisenzio, in central Italy, I went last week to see the situation firsthand. I reached out to Michele Borzoni, a photographer from the TerraProject collective, who had spent the Sunday immediately after the floods helping out some friends with relatives in Campi. The following Thursday we met up at 9:30 a.m. at a gas station near the Florence airport and went to the nearby hard-hit town. My idea was to do some reporting for a couple of hours, interview residents about their experiences and return to my desk to gather my notes and write. But, at 3 p.m., we were still in Campi. That day was a rollercoaster of emotions: excitement at seeing so many young people helping clearing basements and removing muddy waters, amazement at the locals’ determination to reclaim their lives back, anger at the lack of coordination in the first days of the emergency and grief over everything that was lost. It was only after a new weather alert saying that more rain was about to fall that we decided it was time to return home. As you read this, the situation in Campi Bisenzio has much improved. Yet witnessing what happened in that area has given me many new insights on the changing climate and its impact on territories, starting with how we deal with these emergencies.

On the evening that the storm hit, Stefano Cecconi was on the phone with his son, who has lived with his family in Campi Bisenzio for four years. "Dad," he recalls his son telling him, "the road has already flooded a bit here." As Cecconi’s son returned home after moving the cars to what he thought was a safer place and changing out of his wet clothes, the latter’s wife looked out the window and saw her car passing by, carried away by the current. Soon, a meter and a half (59 inches) of water flooded the ground floor of their house, where the family stores seasonal clothes, some gym tools and children’s toys. Others in Campi — who use such spaces as bedrooms, kitchens and taverns — weren’t so lucky.

That night, eight people died in Tuscany: One was swept away as he tried to move his car to a higher elevation in Campi.

On the left, coats hang out to dry in the Cecconis’ home. On the right, signs of flooding on the ground floor wall of the home of their neighbor, an old lady who lives with her caregiver, November 9, 2023 (Michele Borzoni/TerraProject).

When Cecconi heard of the car carried away by the current, his memories immediately went back to another flood that hit Italy in 1966. At that time, he was nine years old and lived in Borgo Ognissanti, Florence, a few steps away from the Arno River. Unlike the recent flooding, the 1966 flood was caused by less intense but more persistent rains lasting for days.

The flooded garage of a condo in Via delle Betulle, Campi Bisenzio, November 9, 2023 (Michele Borzoni/TerraProject).

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