On 25 May, 200 metres of the road running along the river Arno collapsed into itself along with over twenty parked cars, but luckily took no victims with it. Florence woke up utterly shocked to find an extremely central part of the city, just a two minute walk away from the Ponte Vecchio, dramatically sunken into the ground. Residents from the expensive Palazzi residences that line the Lungarno were evacuated, Palazzo Pitti was closed, and most of the city was left without water for the day whilst reparations were made. Photos of the collapse went viral online, curious crowds surrounded the scene and, stupefied, everyone was asking the same question: just how can this have happened? “Come mai è accaduto questo?”

The collapse has been put down to the rupture of a main water tube under the road, a tube revealed to have been in use for over sixty years. But the water company responsible for the upkeep of the water system, Publiacqua, retain that no signs of decay or damage had been made apparent from their monitoring and check ups. Professionals have suggested that if not down to the quality of the tube, it could be the fault of a highly powerful and unexpected channel of water under the riverbed disturbing the normal water currents.

what if this happens again, but during the day, when thousands of tourists are out and about along the riverbank?

However, Florence’s mayor Dario Nardella admits that the damage must be to some extent due to “human error” as it came to light that a flooding alarm had been set off at midnight the night before the 6am collapse. Evidently, not enough was done to prevent the fatal rupture. Pictures can be seen online of the flooded residential streets close to the collapsed piece of road that were posted on the night of the 24th. At midnight, waterworks repair men were called to the scene, and the problem seemed to have been “resolved”. However, only six hours later, the tube completely ruptured, causing the street to cave in. “I don’t want to be an accuser”, said Nardella, “but we have to know what really happened, and those responsible must pay”.

Two weeks later, however, and it’s still unclear who is responsible. The Mayor gave his gratitude to the troops of workmen who have been incessantly working on the site since the collapse, even on the day of La Festa della Repubblica. Passing by the worksite a few times now, I’ve seen how the famous water tube has now been replaced and reinstalled. A water repairman at the site told me that everything should be back in place and complete within five months. But who is responsible? Was it a one-off occurrence? One weak tube that the monitoring failed to detect? Was enough monitoring even in place to start with? Or is the whole Lungarno fundamentally too weak and in need of strengthening? These are the questions everyone is asking.

As with this collapse, Florence was lucky. Yes, it has inflicted 5 million Euros’ worth of damage, but no one was injured and no historical site has been damaged. Yet what if this happens again, but during the day, when thousands of tourists are out and about along the riverbank? What if next time it’s closer to the Ponte Vecchio?

The collapse of the street has potentially shed light on a need for reconstruction in Florence and a review of its structures. It is, after all, an old, historic city, but its little streets and fragile structures are bombarded by thousands of tourists and taxis every day. Is it getting too much? Can it handle all these pressures? The President of “La Regione Toscana” Enrico Rossi thinks the collapse has opened a new conversation about public services, as Italy only spends 1.2 billion a year on water services and its upkeep but governmental agencies suggest at least 5 billion should be invested into it. According to him, the council have let the water supply system get too old, and constantly repair it only with temporary solutions. If they keep resolving problems in this way, episodes like this along the Lungarno “will become the norm” according to Rossi, and will cost billions more in reparations.

for the Florentines, this really has opened a new source of worry and anxiety for them about the strength and safety of their city.

The collapse has certainly made residents anxious, and efforts are being made to monitor the entire riverbed, not only in this particular spot. Researchers and professionals from the University’s Science department are very much involved, installing various monitors to keep a close eye on the situation. The council are very aware of time pressing upon them: work must be done before winter arrives and the river Arno inevitably rises and expands with rainwater.

People continue to pass the site in awe. Some, who maybe don’t understand the seriousness of the situation, stop to take a selfie with the damage. I must admit that this angers me. To the visiting tourist perhaps the collapse seems funny, random, something to document. But for the Florentines, this really has opened a new source of worry and anxiety for them about the strength and safety of their city. Let’s hope the council soon find out who and what is actually responsible for this strange incident, so they can move on with construction and make progress for the future.

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