The disaster in the Dolomiti

The disaster in the Dolomiti

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

When I was in the Dolomiti, Marilisa told me about a disaster that happened there in 1963. I find it interesting that when I remember this story I remember it in Italian. Maybe it’s a good indication that the language is finally taking hold. In any case, the Italian authorities decided that this would be a good place to build a dam. It would provide water for watering crops downstream and would also be a good place to generate electricity. It seems that there was a lot of debate. The story, as she told it, was that there were two geologist. One had said, absolutely no problem, build the dam. The other one said, this area has a great history of landslide, you certainly shouldn’t do it. The interests of “progress” prevailed and they built it. So of course the lake formed behind the dam and on the night of October 9, at 10:39 PM a massive landslide occurred. The volume of the material from the landslide was three times the volume of the water in the lake. The result, as you might imagine, was a huge wave estimated at over 800 feet high which of course went over the dam and totally destroyed the town below and some villages downstream. At least 2000 people lost their lives and 350 complete families were totally erased. Of course the authorities all ran for cover saying that it was just a rare phenomenon of nature but it really was clear this area had had numerous landslides in the past and was incredibly stupid to build this dam.

The damn remains since it wasn’t destroyed. But who can blame the Italians for distrusting their government – self serving politicians that ignored obvious warnings of a potential disaster. Lately it seems that our own politicians have similar ways of being.  I didn’t get any pictures and of course I wasn’t around there in 1963 but others recorded the evidence of the catastrophe.


I wanted to go by and see the dam and the now dry lake but as chance would have it there was some kind of fair going on including a detour through the current town and I couldn’t go there. Still it is a stirring story.

Recently there was a story in Corriere della Sera about the first responders, mostly firemen, who found so many people dead and others that wanted them to come to some location where their family members were buried in the ensuing mud. But when they went there they could find no landmarks to know where this bakery or house was because almost all of the landmarks had been swept away.

You can read an English account by clicking here for the Wikipedia account.


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