Saturday, September 24, 2022

Cable car tragedy shakes city already damaged by pandemic

STRESA, Italy – The sun shone brightly on Sunday on Lake Maggiore, a spectacular alpine lake that crosses the Italian-Swiss border. Fabrizio Bertoletti, the owner of a small hotel with a restaurant on top of Mount Mottarone, feels uplifted.

After months of coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and hotels have finally started to open. Indoor dining is still banned, but he said: “It was a beautiful day and people would not complain even if they had to eat outside.”

On a terrace with a breathtaking view of the lake and the mountains that set it up, Mr. Bertoletti’s restaurant accommodates about 70 people, and it was fully booked. The hotel and restaurant, named “Eden”, is located just a few meters from the top station of a cable car that connects the summit with the town of Stresa on the shore, a popular holiday destination almost 5000 meters below.

“We felt relieved, and there was a sense of restart. And then … ‘Mr Bertoletti’s voice faded.

And then came the tragedy, minutes after noon, when a cable car with 15 passengers sank to the ground. All but one are dead. The only survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, lost both his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents.

“All the seasons of life were in that hut,” said Reverend Gian Luca Villa, Stresa’s parish priest.

It’s an incomprehensible loss to the families of the victims, but people here can not help noticing that it is also another one in a series of beatings that last longer than a year, for a tourism- dependent area that suffered greatly from the pandemic.

For the hotels, restaurants, ski resorts and other businesses on top of the mountain, the cable car was an economic lifeline – now cut off for the foreseeable future. There is a road leading to the summit, with toll, as it passes through the private property of a local aristocratic family, but many people prefer the faster cable car with its beautiful views.

Mr. Bertoletti and others are embarking on a new setback after months of closures and restrictions on the coronavirus, including during the winter, when Italy closed its ski resorts. “There’s been so much snow here for years,” he said, and yet, “we could do nothing.”

The coming months will mean difficulties for the 100 families working on the mountain, he predicted. Although the day was sunny and warm, the restaurant was empty on Tuesday afternoon, except for a few journalists and a handful of cyclists who ventured up steep curves to the summit.

“My heart aches for the victims,” ​​he said. Bertoletti said, which appeared visibly shaken by the events of Sunday. But after more than a year of the coronavirus, it was ‘very difficult here’, he said.

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The cable car almost reached the top of its barrel on Sunday when it suddenly slid backwards and then fell about 60 feet, bouncing and tumbling down the mountain slope before coming to rest on its side against the long evergreen that covers most of the slope.

Before dawn on Wednesday, investigators in the nearby town of Verbania arrested three people involved in the operation of the cable car. The chief prosecutor, Olimpia Bossi, spoke outside her office and told reporters that the ’emergency brake system of the cable car that had fallen’ had been tampered with. ‘

Investigators said a malfunction was identified in the system last month that caused the cable car to brake spontaneously, and to ensure the service ‘can continue to work’, a fork-shaped clamp was placed on the brake to prevent that it turns on. . Bossi said resolving the malfunction would require more “radical intervention”.

The three are being investigated because they suspect they removed a safety device that led to a disaster.

An attorney for the owner of the company could not be immediately reached.

Law enforcers on Tuesday stood guard at the crash site, a cordoned-off area, littered with broken glass, a door, a blanket, a children’s shoe.

Stresa, one of several beautiful villages along Lake Maggiore, is usually known for its luxury hotels on the lake, the easy boat ride to the landscaped islands in the Borromeo family, and an annual music festival in the fall.

The lake, more than 30 miles long, lies on the border between the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, making it a popular outing for people from Milan and Turin, and it also attracts many foreigners. The tourist season usually begins with Easter and lasts until autumn, attracting visitors with gentle temperatures and colors of leaf-turning luster.

But last year, in March and April, Lombardy became the first part of Europe to be fully affected by the new virus, which killed tens of thousands of people here.

The pandemic brought most holiday plans to a standstill, and several hotels around the lake never opened their doors. The proximity to Switzerland, which had less stringent rules for coronavirus, punished towns on the Italian side, said Gian Maria Vincenzi, president of the local hotel association.

The cable car crash “is a tragedy in the tragedy of Covid, which nearly wiped out work,” he said.

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Antonio Zacchera, whose family owns four hotels on Lake Maggiore, said two remained closed last year.

“About a quarter of our customers are Americans, and the fact that we were dependent on foreigners was a benefit in the past,” he said. But with travel restrictions caused by pandemics, ‘it was a disadvantage of this round’.

Like other hotel leaders in the area, Mr. Zacchera rooms made available to the families of the cable car victims. “Our first thoughts are with them,” he said.

The cable car was popular with tourists, but also with locals who would drive upstairs to get to the ski schools in the winter, or just for the view. “You never thought something bad would happen, and it’s a disaster,” said Alberto De Martini, owner of the Enoteca Da Giannino in the central square of Stresa, when he disinfected his restaurant’s tables and chairs. .

The city on Monday commemorated the dead, rang for 14 minutes and closed shops, one for each victim. Massimo Colla, the owner of the wine bar and bistro Al Buscion, said he keeps it closed all day. “When tragedy happens near the house, you feel it intensely,” he said. “It’s going to take time before the city overcomes it.”

Father Villa, the priest, said he gathered the believers in prayer shortly after the accident and held other services on Monday. With the city on Wednesday, he planned a memorial service for the emergency services workers and others who combed the mountain slope, mostly in vain to survivors among the dead. He said 14 candles would be lit during the service and that the victims would be named and remembered one by one.

Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor of just eight months, said she was looking for a permanent way to commemorate the victims. ’23 May will be on September 11, ‘she said in an emotional interview in her office.

“Although citizens were in shock,” she said, adding that the locals could act as well as possible. Civil protection volunteers immediately arrived on the scene along with the emergency workers. Hotel owners took families of victims, taxi drivers transported people for free and local health authorities provided psychologists.

“People come to Stresa because they feel safe,” she said. Severino said. The city is small and close, with little crime. “Obviously, Stresa will become a bad name for the families of the victims,” ​​she said. “But I hope they will remember how the city is trying to be near them.”

Nation World News Desk
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