Major cities flooded. Buildings collapsed. The power went out. At least seven victims died. Subway stations and major tourist attractions were under water….
Major cities flooded. Buildings collapsed. The power went out. At least seven victims died. Subway stations and major tourist attractions were under water. Rivers of mud grabbed cars and buried streets.
In the hours when Hurricane Irma struck Naples, Fla., storms hit Naples, Italy, too. By far the worst damage was to the north, though. In Livorno, torrents of mud paralyzed the city and the devastation rivaled that in Florida. In Rome, a pop-up lake surrounded the Colosseum. Other districts of the Eternal City saw knee-deep water.
And this blow was just the latest trial for Bella Italia in a very tough year (after a troubled one last year) . My favorite foreign country — except for California — has endured the trials of Job, natural and manmade.
Prior to this surprise inundation, much of Italy had suffered its worst drought in generations. Lakes dwindled to baked mud. Wildfires blazed, even around Mt. Vesuvius. The damage to crops, from Europe’s greatest vineyards (take that, France!) to the world’s best tomatoes, ran into the billions.
Then an earthquake shook the vacation isle of Ischia at the peak of the holiday season.
Human factors weighed on the country, too.
Americans know about Angela Merkel’s fateful decision to admit a million migrants to Germany. But Italy has been swamped by over 600,000 unbidden economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East over the last five years and it rarely gets mentioned.
Italy has been coping, as humanely as possible, with human trafficking on an industrial scale. It hasn’ t gone well, but it couldn’ t.
The good news is that, in the last few months, the number of migrants attempting to reach Italy in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats has declined. The bad news is that the influx of migrants with extravagant expectations and no skills has been a plague. Crime is up, and the quality of life for working-class Italians — whose neighborhoods bear the brunt of the culture clash — has gone down.
The Italian government struggles to behave with decency, while the European Union barely pretends to help, dragging its feet on resettlement efforts and sticking Italy with the bulk of the bill. That’s in a country with a staggering national debt and where the national unemployment rate stubbornly remains above 11 percent.
And international open-border fanatics have done enormous harm. Italy had to seize boats (and bribe the Libyans to help) to stop an outrageous scam: NGO-owned or chartered vessels had been coordinating directly with human traffickers so that “rescue ships” were positioned precisely just beyond Libyan waters, waiting to scoop up the migrants before their rafts could sink. Then the NGOs presented the migrants to Italian authorities as having been rescued at sea.
Meanwhile, migrant violence increased within Italy, from rapes and robberies to street battles with cops in Naples and Rome — where aggressive migrants hurled gas canisters.
Tourists rarely get a hint of this. The Italians are wonderfully welcoming and protective — the tourist industry is not only big business, but Italians are justifiably proud of their unrivaled cultural heritage and lifestyle. Americans are particularly welcome.
Yet, even in that sphere, Italians can’ t catch a break. Two Carabinieri, members of Italy’s elite paramilitary police, have just been accused of raping two American students in Florence. That is not the norm — but it’s the sort of incident that draws headlines.
Meanwhile, heartless speculators drive up prices on prime urban real estate, converting family apartments into vacation rentals and driving Italians out of their own cities.
This doesn’ t mean anyone should skip a visit to Italy. Quite the contrary. It’s an inexhaustibly enchanting country, from Torino to Taormina. It’s the one place that’s got it all, from mountaineering in the Dolomites to the multilayered culture and magnificent food of Sicily.
Just do a little research on where you stay: Don’ t put Italians out on the street to save yourself a few bucks. Capisci?
Italy will come through all this, of course. It’s survived plague, poverty and countless invasions, organized crime, poor government and the insult of fast-food. The economy shows signs of growth, after a decade of crisis. The political scene, though chaotic, reveals a growing impulse toward reform.
And life has come a long, long way from the poverty that underlays the image of la dolce vita, to say nothing of the dire conditions that long ago drove so many Italians from the Mezzogiorno and Sicily to our shores.
When the drought eases, when the rains stop, when the streets are cleared and the morning sun works its magic in the piazza, the Italians will make a triumph of life yet again.
Ralph Peters is Fox News’ Strategic Analyst.