The flood of Sarno and Quindici

La frana di Sarno, in provincia di Salerno, del maggio 1998

On May 5, 1998, heavy rain hit the province of Salerno. Beginning at two o'clock in the afternoon, over 140 landslides hit the municipalities of Quindici, Bracigliano, Siano, San Felice a Cancello, Sarno and other towns in the areas of Salerno and Naples, spilling over 2 million cubic meters of material. 160 people lost their lives, 137 of them in Sarno. There were hundreds of injured, thousands of displaced people. The Sarno is the most serious hydrogeological disaster in Italy in the last 50 years, after Vajont in 1963 and Stava in 1985.

At 17.30 of May 5, the prefecture of Salerno, responsible for the coordination of the province's civil protection, is focused on Bracigliano, Quindici and Siano where the situations seems more critical and where the mayors have already ordered the evacuation. In Sarno the alarm is not triggered and, around 18, begins one of the heaviest tragedies ever faced by our country. The police forces attempted to help the population to evacuate the affected areas, but at 8 p.m. the situation worsens: a large wave hits people, houses and cars. At 11.45 p.m. Sarno is destroyed by another landslide, which hits the town at a speed of 50-60 kilometers per hour.

The whole country helps. The search for the missing is carried out with the maximum involvement of people and means and Franco Barberi, undersecretary at the Ministry of the Interior in charge of the Civil Protection follows the activities personally. A number of operational centers were set up to deal with the emergency. The search and rescue activities ended on May 8th with the rescue of a boy buried in the mud, the last of the survivors of the catastrophe.

The state of emergency for Sarno was declared by a decree of the President of the Council of Ministers on May 9, 1998 and subsequently extended several times. The ordinance n. 2787 of 1998 nominated the President of the Campania Region as delegated commissioner, the commissioning structure which, by implementing the plan of structural interventions, predisposed in the involved municipalities an "Interprovincial emergency plan - risk of flooding" activated by a hydro-pluviometric monitoring system that in the following phases - territorial control, alert, pre-alarm and alarm - activated the resources of civil protection.

The flooding of Sarno, in terms of monitoring and surveillance of hydrogeological events, has brought about a major change in the approach to risk, previously characterized mainly by structural interventions and rescue and assistance activities.

The Decree-Law n. 180 of 1998, known as "Sarno Decree", later converted into Law n. 267 of August 3, 1998, has determined a decisive boost to both the perimeter activities of the hydrogeological risk areas and the strengthening of the monitoring and surveillance networks.

Before this event, the monitoring network of Campania counted on few telemetered rain gauges, none of them located in the Sarno area. Today there are many telemetered rain gauges providing real time data both to the Regional Functional Centre and to the Central Centre of the Civil Protection Department. Therefore, the Sarno law began the construction of the Functional Centers network, supporting the strengthening of the national hydro-meteo-pluviometric monitoring network and the construction of the national meteorological radar network.

Photo: Firefighters at work after the landslide of Sarno on May 5, 1998 / National Fire Department