As rescuers searched for 11 people still missing after a catastrophic landslide in Ischia, anger was growing on the southern Italian island over the years of rampant illegal construction that contributed to the disaster.
The landslide, which struck a day before, was confirmed by Sunday afternoon to have claimed three lives for a 32-year-old Eleonora Sirabella, a child and a woman who have yet to be officially identified as a result of a violent storm that sent mud and debris from Monte Epomeo, a 789 metre peak.
In 2009, the same hamlet was hit by a landslide when a 14-year-old girl died and damaged again in 2017 by an earthquake.
Dozens of homes were destroyed, trees were uprooted, and cars were swept into the ocean in the latest tragedy.
"I m furious," said Franco, as he cleared mud from the entrance of a hotel owned by his family. This is the second time I have had to do this after the 2009 landslide. They made lots of promises to make the area more secure. They knew the risks but did nothing. The storm, which followed days of heavy rainfall across much of Italy, is said to be the worst to hit Ischia, an island in the Gulf of Naples, in 20 years, with 126 mm of rain falling in six hours.
Casamicciola Terme is home to just over 2,000 people and is located in an area of the island known for its natural hot springs and popular with Italian and foreign tourists, which is extremely vulnerable to landslides and seismic activity. There were 72 landslides registered between 2018 and 2021 in the hamlet.
The number of illegally built homes and other buildings estimated at 28,000 on the island has been blamed for the damage.
Vincenzo Capuano said they have been giving permits to people to build illegally since the 1920s, as he assessed the destroyed premises of what was his cultural association. We are not talking about just a few years. These permits were given for houses, hotels, etc. Capuano, whose car was swept away in the disaster, is friends with a man in his 60s who was hospitalised on Saturday after being pulled alive from the thick mud.
The illegal building also meant that trees, which play an essential role as buttresses in reducing landslide risk, were torn down. Experts say that a geological survey assessing the risks in the area was done 20 years ago.
This is a region that is predisposed to landslides, said Micla Pennetta, professor of geomorphology at Federico II University in Naples. So much of the devastation in the past has influenced the current morphology of Ischia. Seismic activity plays a part, but on top of the natural aspects we have deforestation and subsequent cementification, this reduced the capacity for water to be absorbed, allowing it to reach roads and homes, causing extreme damage. Pennetta said that not only has the geological map not been updated 20 years ago, but it was never detailed enough to identify the risks. If no proper studies are done, people can build wherever they want.