An interview with Riccardo Conti, Vice President of the Province of Firenze
As you were also one of the "Mud Angels", could you tell us what you did on that sad occasion?
Yes, I was 15 years old at the time of the flood and tagged after my elder brother who was later to become an art historian. He was one of the first people to see Cimabue's Crucifix in Santa Croce and was terribly shocked by the sight. I was sent to work at the National Library and the Gabinetto Vieusseux to help recover the books damaged in the flood.
Do you remember anything in particular of the time?
I remember the incredible reaction of the Florentines. They all set to work, both single individuals and the parish organizations and clubs. There was an immediate solidarity among the the Florentines and, as we all know, solidarity encourages solidarity. I also remember the horrible smell of fuel oil. I recall the whistles and catcalls when Giuseppe Saragat, who was then President of the Republic, arrived and Emanuele Casamassima, the Director of the National Library, saying to him: "President, please let us get on with the job". This was a foretaste of the political protests that were to explode later in 1968.
What happened after the flood?
The administration of the situation after the flood was a typical example of "Bargellinism" (Bargellini was Mayor of Florence at the time) and the methods used by the Christian Democrats. The economic resources were wasted. The typical Christian Democrat policy of public assistance for all. It was a golden chance that Florence was to lose and which was also to strengthen the Florentine Conservative party. It was one of the most mediocre moments in the history of the city.
Is the Arno still dangerous today, thirty years after the flood of 1966?
The risk of floods every thousand years or so is a fact that we must come to accept. The Arno is a river that can be extremely dangerous when it is in flood and we must learn to live with it, like the Japanese do with earthquakes. I don't really think that Florence need live in dread of floods. However the river basin is still not safe today and the situation has got worse since 1966 because the Arno does not have the freedom to flow as it should. This is why the city of Pisa is its most delicate point, in spite of several major public works having been carried out in the meantime. The local Town Councils have made an enormous contribution while the Province of Florence hopes to open a large territorial park along the area of the river basin. Nowadays we are much more aware of the importance of the environment but, if we want to improve the security of the area, building regulations have to be made that can control the laws that already exist against illegal construction; moreover we need more education on security, using the civil protection service as a basis. Agriculture and other similar productive activities should be encouraged in areas at flood risk in order to prevent the protection of the Arno from becoming a passive concept.
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