Still Digging Out

The economic impact of record, February snowfalls is still casting a chill over Urbino’s economy.

URBINO, Italy — In the summer, the city is typically buzzing with activity. The central Piazza Della Repubblica is jammed with people enjoying the sunny weather and the conviviality of friends, while customers are crowding everything from the gelato shop to the Pinocchio store.

However, this was not the case only four months ago when the town was buried by 10-foot snowstorms in February that left behind an unforeseen wake of destruction that is still being felt long after the snow melted.

Collapsed Roof

The collapsed roof over the balcony of the Ristorante Cinese Nuovo Sole.

“In 56 years I’ve never seen something like this,” said Italo Simoncelli, co-owner of the supermarket Conad City and 30-year resident of Urbino, speaking through an interpreter. In fact the storms were the greatest in the 128 years for which the city has records.

For some business owners, like Simoncelli, the storms meant a change in both their personal lives and businesses. The 56-year-old had to wake at 5 a.m. every morning to make the mile-and-a-half walk to get to work on time.

“After a couple of days inside here it was like a desert because there was nothing left,” said Simoncelli as he recalled his store’s struggles in receiving shipments, a problem that was shared by other businesses such as the Café Basili.

Daniel Stafoggia, a balding, brown-haired manager at the café, said the business couldn’t receive shipments for 10 days. The café was closed for four or five days during the worst of the snowfall, remaining open only to sell food and drinks to fire fighters and other emergency response teams.

“We didn’t have any long-term problems,” Stafoggia said, whose café’s modern building was unaffected by the snow.

But that was hardly the case for everyone.

One of the structures that was damaged due to its age is the San Francesco Catholic Monastery. The 700-year-old building is one of the oldest monasteries in the Marche region, and its monks were the original founders of Urbino University.

Parts of the building survived unscathed. However, gaping holes in the roof and structural damage in five of the rooms have left them unusable since the storm.

When it started snowing hard we started hearing creaks in the roof.

“When it started snowing hard we started hearing creaks in the roof,” said Friar Andrea Cannuccia, a friar who lives at the monastery and who works with a Catholic organization of university students.

The very structure of religious buildings worked against their surviving the storm.

“Churches weren’t able to support that much snow because they are very wide inside, while on the contrary modern buildings have relatively small rooms,” said Domenico Fucili, the chief engineer of a private construction company hired by Urbino to inspect buildings for damage.

Building codes require roofs to support 120 kilograms (264 pounds) per square meter, while the snow on the rooftops exceeded 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) per square meter, Fucili said.

Fucili kept busy during February, inspecting 5-600 buildings in Urbino alongside his crews, and the fire and police departments. This increased amount of work did not prove rewarding for Fucili and his company, however.

Collapsed Roofs

Collapsed and damaged roofs can still be seen scattered throughout the rooftops of Urbino.

“I worked from six in the morning to twelve at night,” said the white-haired engineer. “They didn’t pay me for a month, not just me, but also my other colleagues.”

He is now collaborating on a project to help prevent future disasters in other towns by establishing emergency response procedures.

Facili credited much of the emergency relief aid to volunteer workers. Much of the support in the area came from the north of Italy where they avoided the heavy snowstorms. Cadore sent an army team to lend aid, and a group came from Trentino.

However, not all residents experienced the same relief. The owners of the Ristorante Cinese Nuovo Sole, Liu Li Kang and his wife, Xu Min Hua, are facing financial hardships following the damage that their restaurant suffered.

Liu Jie, 22, son of the owners, said during the night of Feb.1-2, the roof over the restaurant’s exterior balcony collapsed from the weight of the snow.

“After a week the roof was full of snow, so then the snow started melting and water leaked through the roof,” Liu Jie said. “It was as if it was raining inside of here.”

He said they had to close for two months, until April 7.

When they talked with their landlord, the owners of the Ristorante Cinese Nuovo Sole were told they might have to pay for the repairs that were done to the ceiling inside of the restaurant. Meanwhile they say the exterior roof is still ruined.

“I just rent the place, I’m not supposed to pay for something that’s not my fault,” said Liu Jie. He estimated the repairs would cost about $38,000.

Parts of Urbino and its economy, and the surrounding area, remained at a standstill for months after the storms, and they are still snowed under financially.

“Not everything is back to normal,” Facili said. “There are still many problems with farms, and some factories are still not working. We still haven’t gotten any money from the government.”

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About Timothy Soule

When applying for this program I had no idea the level of cultural immersion I would experience here in Italy. I learned valuable journalism skills from the great faculty and through interacting with the residents of Urbino. The reporting and cultural experiences that I received have been a once in a lifetime experience for me.