October 9, 1963 the inhabitants of the Vajont Valley were all home for dinner. Many in front of the TV to see Real Madrid-Glasgow Rangers, the Champions League Cup final. At about 22:00, Giancarlo Rittmeyer, that night guarding the dam, calls engineer Biadene, representative of SADE. Communicate that the mountain is yielding visibly. He asks for instructions. Biadene tries to calm him down, but urges him to “sleep with one eye”. In the phone call, the operator of Longarone intrudes, asking if there is any danger for that center. Biadene would tell her not to worry, and to “sleep well”.
October 9, 1963 hours 22.39 the landslide comes off
Not in two steps, but as a single, compact body. At that moment the water level is at 700.42 meters above sea level. The wave, caused by the landslide, is divided in two directions. Invests on one side the villages of Frasiin, San Martino, Col di Spesse, Potato, Il Cristo. Then it arrives at the edges of Casso and Pineda. On the other side, passing the dam, it reaches Longarone, Codissago, Castellavazzo. Finally Villanova, Pirago, Faè, Rivalta, to then flow along the Piave. The wave causes 1917 deaths: 1450 in Longarone, 109 in Castellavazzo, 158 in Erto and Casso and 200 people originating in other municipalities, of which most workers and technicians of the dam with their families. Very few wounded. Throughout the area the only human work that resists, without damage, to the wave is the dam.
However, the Vajont massacre began several years earlier. In 1940 the first surveys were carried out by the geologist Giorgio Dal Piaz and the designer Carlo Semenza, who identified the Vajont valley as the most suitable place to build the highest dam in the world. But without taking into account the shape of the terrain and the mountain on which the basin was to be built, Mount Toc, which in Friulan means piece, rotten.
But regardless of the geological surveys and the phenomena that occurred in the time necessary to build the dam, the SADE, never sent the reports of these findings to the control bodies. Construction began in 1956, without effective ministerial authorization.
It was decided to go ahead, with the consent of the state apparatus, with the complicity of a subjected science, with the compromise of political power, it was decided to take an announced risk: until the tragic evening of that October 9, 1963.
In all this speculation and government intrased a person, Tina Merlin was the true voice of the inhabitants of the valley. Tina Merlin had become so insistent and troubled with her articles on the Unity that the SADE denounced her for defamation and disturbance of public order. On November 10, 1963, Tina Merlin declared everything she knew in an interview on French television, but the Italian state never gave permission to air. He told them that the inhabitants of the Vajont valley were convinced that if they built the dam they would be in danger; in fact, the peasants knew that this was a landslide, and a geologist contacted them had declared that it would be madness to build a hydroelectric basin in that place.
In spite of all the interests of SADE, they were so big that they tarnished and concealed everything. Until that fateful 9 October. After the disaster, the Ministry of Public Works started an investigation to identify the causes of the catastrophe. Eng. Pancini – one of the defendants – commits suicide on the eve of the trial.
The Vajont tragedy is the story of the exclusion of entire populations from choices that put their lives at stake. It is the story of economic and political interests and those responsible who hid behind a word: fatality.
I think that no one will ever forget this immense tragedy caused by nature with the very strong complicity of man. No one will ever be able to forget it because, as a testimony to the fact, there is the biggest tombstone that the human mind could conceive. A 246-meter-high concrete slab that stands right in front of Longarone, and that at least one utility has it.