Last Thursday and Friday, Northern Italy and South-East France were hit by Storm Alex. In some areas, half a year's worth of rain fell in just 36 hours and the devastation was terrible. I merely suffered a power cut but up in the mountains along the border many people were swept away by torrential floods that destroyed roads, bridges and railway lines and brought thousands of tons of trees and vegetation down swollen rivers. It must be a terrifying way to die. And I am distressed that the bodies of these poor people, mainly from France, have been carried out to sea and then washed up on the beaches here. The lives lost is a source of great upset, especially as no bodies have as yet been identified, but the towns and villages inundated by mudslides or filled with felled trees are a tragedy, too. Shops and businesses have already suffered greatly this year with forced closures because of Covid, and now this.
As ever, though, hundreds of volunteers from less damaged places have stepped up with wellies and shovels to help the emergency services and locals deal with the mud and detritus. They are called Mud Angels, a term coined in 1966 when Florence was struck by a similar disaster and people from all over the world came in to help. The Africans who live in Ventimiglia, the Italian town on the border, who are looking to emigrate to France, have been particularly prized volunteers. Yes, immigrants, whom so many despise, are as ever at the forefront of humane actions. I dare say President Macron's visit is appreciated and the Prince of Monaco's gift of money, as well as European Recovery Fund money, but it's the ordinary people on the ground who do the work and make no grand statements other than to go and help others in difficulty.
I asked the police on the waterfront in Sanremo if there's anything the public like me can do but they politely declined, waving a hand at the mess of treetrunks and junk on the shore. Unless you have a JCB or a wood chipper there's not a lot you can do, they said.
What a year! This week two friends of mine have lost parents, another friend had a heart attack, another is dying of cancer; someone else I know died of a stroke after two years in care. That's just this week past. And the Covid continues to explode into a second wave. But I keep thinking of the people who took time out to help the victims of last week's storm and that keeps me confident that humanity wins through.
This BBC article gives you a full report, photos and film:
A dip in the archives
And now something jollier from the past. Three years ago I had a fascinating and fun trip to Prague in Central Europe with my friend Sarah, one of my "androgynous holidays" of that year.
Stay safe and well and look after others who may struggling in this difficult year.