In May 2023, the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna was hit by heavy rainfall events following two years of drought. Such a combination resulted in catastrophic floods, which caused the deaths of 17 people. It’s still not clear what role climate change played in the events (Lapilli+). What’s clear is that the human and social costs of this tragedy are far from being overcome. In the past 12 months, photojournalist Michele Lapini has visited the hardest-hit areas to document the floods’ aftermath. For this Lapilli+, we asked him to share his take on the situation. His words and images convey how difficult it is for those affected to move on after what happened. This reflection is particularly important as the current climate crisis is expected to bring extreme weather events that are more frequent and severe.

Rescuers, on the morning of May 17, 2023, in Faenza, as the Lamone River continued pouring water and mud from its breaking banks (Michele Lapini).

Going back to places is always good practice. Especially when those places are still going through a catastrophe that started exactly a year ago this month. In Emilia-Romagna, May 2023 will long be remembered for the two floods that occurred on May 3 and 16.

I still remember arriving in Faenza for the first time. The river was overflowing into the city, taking over the streets and flooding homes. Everything was chaotic, unexpected and unthinkable. It didn't take long to get used to it. The adrenaline kicked in and I immediately focused on doing my job. But, as the waters receded, so did my adrenaline rush. It's during this lull that a different type of work begins — building relationships, talking to people and understanding the situation a little more deeply. Numbers were impressive: almost 40,000 people were displaced from their homes; some (and still too many) remain displaced; 17 people died. Twenty-three rivers flooded, thousands of landslides occurred and at least 37 municipalities had been affected.

One year later, in Faenza and many other places, it appears as though the floods never happened. But, in some respects, it’s as if the flood never went away. It has remained in people’s lives; it has been inhabiting their empty homes and open windows. It still brings tears to the eyes of those who remember the water flooding their homes and carrying away their everyday lives.

On the left, David Farrella and Gogo Della Luna in their home in Lugo, which was flooded in May 2023. In the flood much of their photographic and artistic work got destroyed. In the middle, Paolo Santarella in the flooded room of his house in Forlì, where the historical archives of his father, an important figure in the Italian Republican Party, were stored. On the right, Gianni Fagioli standing on a tree dragged down by a landslide on his property in Rocca San Casciano, about 17 miles from Forlì, in May 2023 (Michele Lapini).

The flood still haunts Gianni, who is among the promoters of the group “Appello per l’Appennino romagnolo,” focused on building communities against hopelessness. It also pushes Paolo, whose two homes in Forlì got flooded, to save his father's historical archive. For the social cooperative L'Orto, the flood serves as a driving force to find a safer and more climate-resistant location. In fact, the walls of their current place in Budrio, outside Bologna, which was already flooded in 2019, are still covered in up to roughly five feet of dry mud. The flood erased identities, including those of David, a photographer, and Gogo, an artist. They are based in Lugo, not far from Ravenna, and in the floods they lost negatives, prints and manuscripts — decades’ worth of artistic work.

And, in the long wait for the promised compensation from the government, the flood’s presence is felt still.

One year after the flood, some landslides are still active, including this one in Ganzole, Sasso Marconi, about 10 miles from Bologna (Michele Lapini).

In the highlands, though, scars from the floods are even more visible. Some landslides are still active. They resemble waves made of soil that look like gashes in the woods and hills. Roads are reduced to one lane. And the landscapes look different. There’s been less talk of the situation in the Apennines and hills. But these areas are full of reminders of the flood events of May 2023.

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