Rain, fire and brimstone

Miss S and umbrella

It’s Friday and another day of rain and grey skies. Most of November has been wet and overcast. The odd clear day with a tease of winter sunshine and blue skies sees us spiling out of the house to stroll and enjoy the village. It’s been hard to not let the weather dictate our movements and decisions. After what feels like an endless summer of hot days and warm, sticky nights the urge to cocoon ourselves inside is strong.

This rain is different to the tropical rains of my childhood in Queensland, Australia. The humidity would build up all day and then the afternoon skies would release a torrent of thick, juicy raindrops as though having a tantrum before clearing up again. The sun would return and quickly warm every drop, lifting the humidity levels once again.

The rain in southern Italy in the later part of autumn has stamina. It will rain all day, light showers mixed with a moody thunderstorm before settling into steady rain that lingers throughout the night. The roads quickly flood, as though the idea of rainwater running away and escaping down the drains is a foreign concept. And when the roads aren’t flooding, the rain is slowly eating away at the bitumen, creating crevices, holes and chasms that worsen with each passing day of inclement weather.

All the while, Australia burns. The news of the ongoing bushfires, exhausted fire fighters, dying koalas and smoke-filled urban areas invades my newsfeed and social media. It feels ungrateful to be wishing for less rain and more sunshine when my fellow Australians are suffering the effects of ongoing drought and praying for rain.

My current worries about nature are a little different.

The news earlier this week of earthquake tremors in our province saw our local school close on Tuesday as a precautionary measure. I don’t have much personal experience with earthquakes having only once been very mildly shaken up by a tremor while living in the historical centre of Naples many years ago.

I did however make the mistake of having a long conversation with an English language student about all things earthquake and volcano related.

Why three million people choose to live in the shadow of the still active Vesuvius volcano is difficult to understand. What’s even scarier though, is thinking about the evacuation process should the Vesuvius every liven up again. The most infamous eruption was in 79AD when the ash from the eruption buried the city of Pompeii and thousands of people in surrounding villages died due to toxic gases and flying debris.

It has erupted 30 times since then. The last major eruption was in 1631 when 4000 people died. In 1944 it erupted killing 26 people. It is well established that Mount Vesuvius is overdue to ‘blow’.

Of course, one assumes that the authorities will provide adequate warnings to local residents about a potential eruption thereby giving three million disorganised, fatalistic and loyally Neapolitan souls time to evacuate. That’s how many people live within volcano’s red zone (a ten-mile radius) – three million. It is probably more than that when you consider tourism and illegal immigrants. But we all know it won’t happen like this and I expect any evacuation process to be complete chaos. Some Neapolitans will just refuse to leave, others will panic and the thin veil of law and order that currently exists will be overthrown as there really aren’t that many roads out of Naples that lead to Rome.

Whenever we drive to Naples or further south along the Italian peninsular Mount Vesuvius is a constant companion. She provides a majestic view and acts as a key point of navigation. Neapolitans dwell in her presence, as though at the breast of a slumbering maternal figure.

There is however something even more terrifying than the world’s most famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius. While it is less well known, there is a super underground volcano which stretches under the bay to the islands of Capri and Ischia called the Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields). Its potential eruption impact would cause a global catastrophe; a small ice age is predicted, along with the contamination of thousands of acres of land, millions of casualties and strong climate change. On top of a global crop failure, starvation, housing and health crisis, diseases, refugees, disruption to air travel and shipping across Europe there is also the impact to the Italian and global economy.

An earthquake seems to be harder to predict and impossible to prepare for, although they certainly don’t represent a threat the way these volcanoes do.

My student told me a story about how in the 1980’s an earthquake hit Caserta when she was at home alone as a 9-year-old. The floor undulated, she heard glass shattering, people screaming and then total silence. Imagine the stomach-churning fear as your brain tries to understand what is happening as the floor suddenly lifts and buckles? Your instinct must be to get out of the building and fast. She told me though that often that is ill advised as the lifts don’t work once the electricity fails, and the stairs are often the first structure in a building to collapse.

My student went on to describe in detail the way Italy sits on two major fault lines and that the African tectonic plate is pushing against the Eurasian plate. The relative lack of earthquakes over the last few centuries has surprised experts. More good news to file for my nightmares.

I’m just hoping that the quaint historical village where we live is far enough away from the volcano and the earthquake prone area of Benevento to be out of harms way. I guess I’ll have to adopt the local Neapolitan attitude and live for today, letting the future take care of itself.



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