Landslide sweeps away Italian cliffside cemetery and its coffins

The landslide was probably caused by erosion of the cliff under the cemetery. PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (NYTIMES) - A landslide carried away a cemetery on the edge of a cliff in the northern Italian region of Liguria, scattering about 200 coffins and bodies across a hillside and into the Mediterranean Sea.

Scuba divers managed to retrieve 12 coffins from the sea by Wednesday (Feb 24) after the landslide in the town of Camogli, about 13km north of Portofino, two days earlier. Most of the coffins from the cemetery remained strewn around and under the rubble caused by the landslide.

Relatives of people who had been buried in the cemetery gathered in the main square of the seaside town to get news and protest what they said was negligence by local authorities.

"It was the only place where I could go see my parents and talk to them," Clara Terrile, 66, who owns a shoe shop in Camogli, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "Now I am left with nothing."

The landslide was probably caused by erosion of the cliff under the cemetery, worsened by storms that have hit the fragile Ligurian coast in recent years, according to Italy's National Council of Geologists.

"This event hit the community hard emotionally," said Francesco Olivari, mayor of Camogli. "The whole Liguria is characterised by these phenomena; it was hard to foresee it," he said.

The landslide, which occurred down the coast from Genoa, where a bridge collapsed in 2018, killing 43 people, prompted outrage in Italy about a lack of infrastructure maintenance and the prevention of natural disasters. Prosecutors in Genoa have opened an investigation into the collapse of the cemetery.

"This is Italy, even dead people cannot rest in peace," one person lamented on Twitter.

The landslide shows "the lack of maintenance that we geologists have denounced for years," Domenico Angelone, secretary of the National Council of Geologists, said in a statement. Despite their "high social, moral and cultural value," cemeteries are often built in unstable places and in recent years suffered a "lack of attention", he added.

The town had started work to solidify the cliff by the cemetery and in recent days the area had been enclosed after officials had noticed cracks and heard some "creaking," Olivari, the mayor, said. Some locals protested that they had been reporting cracks and problems with the cemetery's structure for years.

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