The big freeze

Editorial Staff
February 16, 2012

Weeks of record snowfalls and below-zero temperatures have wreaked havoc on Italy, from north to south.


Florence and the rest of Tuscany seemed to be in the eye of most of the storms in the first two weeks of February, as Siberian winds brought meters of white powder to areas such as Siena and the Val d'Orcia, where some 1,200 households went without electricity for about a week, the Maremma and Pisa areas, where there were a number of isolated towns, as well as the Lunigiana area and the Mugello.


Even much of the province of Florence is blanketed in white, although the city has managed to escape the snow so far. Florence did, however, suffer the sub-zero temperatures and Arctic-like winds, with city fountains and sections of the Arno freezing.


For the rest of Italy, the weather has been disastrous. Record snowfalls and blizzards in the regions of Emilia Romagna, Marche and Abruzzo have left a large number of small towns completely cut off: roads blocked and homes without electricity. Rome was hit twice with record snowfalls, something that had not occurred there for 30 years.


The wave of extreme cold and snow that gripped Italy in early February is known to have claimed at least 57 lives, many among them homeless and elderly persons.


Italy's big freeze also meant big losses. Farmers association Coldiretti said that the ten days of cold temperatures cost the agricultural sector some 1.5 billion euro; meanwhile figures from the Italian Confederation of Farmers estimated damage of more than 350 million euro in the loss of fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and its byproducts; the deaths of animals and fish; and frozen agricultural fields.


Italian households spent 30 percent more on home heating in the two-week period, and the price of fresh fruit and vegetables at markets and supermarkets increased by 200 percent in some areas, the media reported. The cold and ice also pushed businesses to consume more energy, creating an energy crisis across the country that was soon resolved by a measure that forced businesses to stop production during the freeze. Among the factories  to suspend operations in Tuscany were paper-producers in Lucca and Piaggio in Pontedera. Also, six Serie A soccer games were called off due to excessive snow or ice.


With the extreme weather conditions easing both on the mainland and in the Tyrrhenian sea, salvage crews at Giglio Island resumed operations at the capsized Costa Concordia cruise liner. On February 12, officials started the delicate operation of defuelling, called off previously for rough waters. (For a survivor's account of the Costa Concordia tragedy, flip to the featues section.)

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