Italian Cliffside Cemetery, and Its Coffins, Carried Away by a Landslide


ROME — A landslide carried away a cemetery on the edge of a cliff in the northern Italian region of Liguria, scattering about 200 coffins and bodies across a hillside and into the Mediterranean Sea.

Scuba divers managed to retrieve 12 coffins from the sea by Wednesday after the landslide in the town of Camogli, about eight miles north of Portofino, two days earlier. Most of the coffins from the cemetery remained strewn around and under the rubble caused by the landslide.

Relatives of people who had been buried in the cemetery gathered in the main square of the seaside town to get news and protest what they said was negligence by the local authorities.

“It was the only place where I could go see my parents and talk to them,” Clara Terrile, 66, who owns a shoe shop in Camogli said in a phone interview on Wednesday, “now I am left with nothing.”

The landslide was probably caused by erosion of the cliff under the cemetery, worsened by storms that have hit the fragile Ligurian coast in recent years, according to Italy’s National Council of Geologists.

“This event hit the community hard emotionally,” said Francesco Olivari, the mayor of Camogli. “The whole Liguria is characterized by these phenomena, it was hard to foresee it,” he said.

The landslide, which occurred down the coast from Genoa, where a bridge collapsed in 2018 killing 43 people, prompted outrage in Italy about a lack of infrastructure maintenance and the prevention of natural disasters. Prosecutors in Genoa have opened an investigation into the collapse the cemetery.

“This is Italy, even dead people cannot rest in peace,” one person lamented on Twitter.

The landslide shows “the lack of maintenance that we geologists have denounced for years,” Domenico Angelone, the secretary of the National Council of Geologists said in a statement. Despite their “high social, moral and cultural value,” cemeteries are often built in unstable places and in recent years suffered a “lack of attention,” he added.

The town had started work to solidify the cliff by the cemetery and in recent days the area had been enclosed after officials had noticed cracks and heard some “creaking,” Mr. Olivari, the mayor, said. Some locals protested that they had been reporting cracks and problems with the cemetery’s structure for years.

Lilla Mariotti, a resident of Camogli, posted on Facebook a picture of cracks in the cemetery walls she said she sent the mayor in 2012. “I never got any answers,” she wrote.

Ms. Terrile said that she wrote to the town hall in 2007 reporting cracks at the front of her father’s grave, but also never received an answer. In 2019, she reported more cracks, and the town hall fixed them, she said. A couple of weeks ago, in a visit to the graveyard, she noticed that the same cracks had reappeared.

“I hope my parents are among the bodies they have found,” she said, “I don’t even have a place where I can bring a flower anymore.”

Mr. Olivari, the mayor, said the town had set up psychological support for the families affected.

Regional authorities asked for help from national rescue services since the operation to search for the coffins and bodies depended on the safety on the cliff, which was at risk of further collapse.

For now, scuba divers can only rescue coffins floating in the sea as most of the others are buried under the rubble of the landslide, said Giacomo Giampedrone, the top regional civil protection official.


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