The Italian Almanac

mud angels in Florence

Italian News - November 2

At 5am on November 3, 1966 the skies over Tuscany opened and poured non-stop for 18 hours, causing an unprecedented artistic, economic and human disaster. The River Arno burst its banks, flooded the city and claimed 29 lives. Mud and water swamped the museums, churches and libraries of the birthplace of the Renaissance, ruining many great works.

The damage caused was incalculable. But it was a fraction of the devastation the city would have suffered without the efforts of thousands of young volunteers who came from all over Italy and from abroad to save the art treasures and help Florence off its knees.

This week Italy is recalling the disaster and the efforts of those volunteers, nicknamed the 'mud angels', who did so much to limit its impact. Over 2,000 of them are returning here to take part in some of the 100 events marking the 40th anniversary of the flood.

These include a mass in Florence's Duomo in honour of the victims, which US Senator Ted Kennedy and Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli will attend on November 4. There are a number of concerts and exhibitions, including a show at Palazzo Vecchio of shots of the wreckage and the rescue work by Life magazine photographer David Lees.

Flood protection of the historic centre of Florence, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, has since been beefed up by a series of dams, civil-engineering projects and the construction of higher embankments in the city. But experts warn that more still needs to be done to make the city and the surrounding area totally flood-proof.