"The traffic warden, who had been working non-stop for 14 hours, burst into tears of exhaustion and we tried to comfort him"

An account by Riccardo Basosi

"I was 19 years old at the time and a student in the second year of Chemistry. Now I teach Physical Chemistry and am President of the Degree Courses in Chemistry at the University of Siena. I still live in Florence but in the hills just outside, to avoid any risks...

I was part of an emergency squad organized by the ORUF (Representative Organism of the Florentine University), which included 2 boys from Lombardy and another from Calabria, whom I have never seen since. We shovelled tons of mud away together.

We spent a whole day carrying elderly people on our shoulders across Piazza S. Croce, which was completely covered in mud. While I was carrying an old lady, who was holding a huge bag full of bread and other food she had been given by the rescue workers, I got stuck halfway across the square because one of my boots got completely bogged down in the thick oily mud. Keeping hold of the old lady, I tried to get my foot free; meanwhile my "passenger" complained loudly because she was frightened she would fall: "Young man!!! don't you dare let me fall" and, if I remember rightly, she was so scared that she even thumped me with her bag. This episode was photographed by a man standing on the pavement whom I never managed to trace. I eventually resolved the problem by removing - with great difficulty - my boot and taking the old lady to her destination with one bare foot. We managed to find my boot again later on.

A week after the fateful night of the flood, I saw an enormous sign up in Borgo San Lorenzo, apparently placed there by the Pizzeria Nuti. It said: "We're open at the back", with an explicit reference to the intention of the people of Florence to recover from the disaster as quickly as possible and a clear reflection of its dramatic effects. One evening, when I was returning home after spending all day shovelling mud, I saw a young traffic warden at the crossroads on Viale Belfiore, who was trying to direct the traffic caused by all the people who wanted to come and have a "look at" the flood in Florence. He was dressed in black, wearing a high-necked jumper and without his uniform, unshaven, with his eyes red from lack of sleep. At a certain point, he suddenly gave up directing the traffic and burst into tears. Some other passers-by and I stopped to try and comfort him. He had been there non-stop for 14 hours without ever being relieved. I remember a lady who lived in a house nearby came and brought him a cup of hot tea. We did what we could for him and he cheered up and went back to work. I got the impression that the hooting of the horns calmed down a little. I wonder whether it would have the same effect today!!!

In February 1967 I went with a delegation of Chemistry students from the Artis Maioris Alchimistrarum Ordo to take part in the freshman party at the University of Padua. We were able to pay almost completely for our stay by selling, at a modest price, small plastic souvenir packs of "original mud from the flood in Florence" (which we had naturally procured at Abano Terme), to the Paduans. I have never told anybody this before!!!



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