National Geographic : 1967 Jul
)URTESYGUSTAVOMELLI;KODACHROME BY BALTHAZAR KORAB© N.G.S. Sometime after midnight, east of the city, death claimed one of its early prizes. I could learn only the given name of the girl-Marina. With her father and mother she was swept along by the torrent. For a while they clung to a table, until her father, half-drowned, lost his grip. He and his wife somehow survived, but three days would pass before Marina's small body emerged from the ruined fields. She was among the first of 35 known to have perished in the Florence region. Shortly before 3 a.m. Alberto Maffei, who worked in the Jolly Club near the famous Ponte Vecchio, stepped outside to look at the river. Its deep-throated roar could be heard even above the banging rhythm of "The Yellow Submarine." He noticed lights winking in the jewelers' shops that lined the bridge. Paris Venturi, Gustavo Melli, and other store owners had been warned by a worried night watchman and were saving what they could. When they trained their flashlights down upon the stream, they could see a furious lip of foam rising up the ancient arches and the brown back of the river hurtling with frightening speed under their feet. UNWARNED, UNAWARE, and expecting a holi day, Florence slept. While the river mounted, rains lashed in sheets against Brunelleschi's magnificent ribbed dome over the cathedral, an architectural master work of the Renaissance. It pounded the familiar copy of Michelangelo's "David" that stands before the towered Palazzo Vecchio, begun in 1298 and still the seat of Florence's city government (page 43). The rain streamed over marble plaques that recorded what the city had forgotten-the high-water marks of past calamities-the disastrous flood of November 4, 1333 (below), which "rushed into the city with such fury that it filled all Florence"; the terrible flood of September 13, 1557; and that of November 3, 1844, marked today by memorial tablets at heights up to 7 feet. Now, on Novem ber 4, 1966, the angry Arno rose as never before. As the milky light of dawn seeped into a black night, the river began to pour unchecked into the poor districts of Gavinana and San Frediano on the south bank. Ex ploding through the windows of cellar homes, wrenching away doors, plundering the small material savings of lifetimes, the waters here took the aged-a 71-year-old man, a husband and wife of 74 and 52, a man of 81 who yielded without a struggle. At 7:26 a.m. electric clocks stopped all over the city. At that moment, the most easterly of the seven bridges, San Niccolo, was being swallowed, and the full fury of the flood was upon Florence. The breakneck tide chewed away the embankments of the streets called Lungarno-Along the Arno-that par allel the river. It swept up automobiles and hurled them against lamp posts and street signs (pages 8-9), tore out concrete walls, and began to batter the Ponte Vecchio with trees, oil drums, and other debris. It also began to flush from hundreds of drowning basements the thick black nafta-fuel oil-of central heating systems.