The rain began falling in torrents around dawn, accompanied by flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder. It was the kind of intense storm that usually passes quickly, but this one stalled over Rome for several hours last Thursday. The city crashed to a halt.
The rain would appear to slack off, and people collected their coats and umbrellas and rubber boots to go about their business, then the rain and thunder and lightning would begin again. It was difficult to make out structures across the street because the heavy rain obscured visibility.
I didn’t have any appointments until two p.m., so I made minestrone and hot spiced apple juice as comfort food and snuggled up to my computer. The configuration of my apartment makes it impossible to see the street without going onto the terrace, so I was blissfully ignorant of the extent of the chaos.
At one o’clock, the sun came out, I polished my sunglasses, grabbed my bag and umbrella, and set out. I found the gates to the metro chained closed. Someone told me it was allagata, a word that means approximately 'made into a lake.' Since my local stop is shallow, I walked to the next stop, expecting to find it open. It wasn’t. I walked to the next. Closed. Then I began waiting for a bus. There were none.
In the hour that I was out, I was shined on by the sun, pelted by the rain, startled by the thunder and lightning. I finally gave up and canceled my appointments, but I didn’t learn the extent of the storm until I returned home to look at the news.
Rain flowed down steps into the underground like waterfalls, forcing one line--the one I use--to close half the route. The other line closed several stations due to flooding. In addition to that, water collected in the streets, forcing busses out of service.
While I was out, I had seen public works crews out trying to remove debris from the storm drains, but so much water had fallen in such a short period that it had the upper hand.
Water rushed into many businesses in my neighborhood and others throughout Rome. A small shop where I bought computer paper on Friday had lost lots of stock, including boxes of detergent, paper products and much more.
In central Rome, the rain tossed the city’s characteristic sampietrini paving stones as if they were coins, leaving great holes in the streets, described by one newspaper as 'chasms.' One man, living in a basement apartment, drowned in his bed.
The usual screams about how public officials handled the emergency are rampant. The mayor claims that it was a natural disaster and couldn’t be anticipated. The opposition points to other recent rainstorms, albeit not so severe, that produced chaos as well.
As the rain raged, information trickled. One of my friends boarded a bus that would have taken him within walking distance of home. On board, an announcement that the metro had reopened sent him off the bus at the main train station to take a subway home. Once off the bus, he discovered that the metro had not, in fact, reopened, and he found himself stranded at the train station.
Heavy rain is predicted in Rome today. Intense storms blasted the north yesterday with lots of damage. Four people died and six are missing. Mudslides covered highways and boats entered piazzas.
The first thunderbolt just rumbled in Rome. It’s time to build an ark.