Huge sinkhole in city centre will cost Florence €5 million

The centre of picturesque Florence has been plunged into chaos after part of the embankment of the River Arno collapsed on Wednesday, causing an estimated €5 million of damage and thought to be down to "human error".

Huge sinkhole in city centre will cost Florence €5 million
Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

Twenty cars were swallowed up by the sinkhole and two residential buildings by the famous Ponte Vecchio were evacuated. Large parts of Florence as well as nearby Prato were left without water into Wednesday afternoon.

Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

The stretch of road between the 14th century Ponte Vecchio and the Ponte alle Grazie caved in when a mains pipe it was sitting on burst in the early hours of the morning, causing €5 million worth of damage, according to initial estimates.

READ MORE: 200-metre sinkhole swallows 20 cars in central Florence

“Seeing that chasm 200 metres from the Ponte Vecchio was a blow. When I got there this morning my heart ached,” Florence Mayor Dario Nardella told Italian media on Wednesday, as residents and tourists hovered at the scene, snapping photographs.

Nardella has not hesitated to point the finger at water company Publiacqua, saying: “The more time passes, the clearer it becomes to me that this is a human error. Someone will have to take responsibility.”

Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

When asked if someone would be fired following the incident, he said that this would be “the minimum” response.

Local magistrates have opened a probe to look at whether the company is to blame. Critics say Publiacqua was slow to respond to the first reports of cracks in the road, and should have turned off the water supply to the area to prevent further damage.

The collapse “raises the curtain on the criminal management of water resources in Florence”, said Federica Daga, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star movement, also blaming the mayor and his predecessor, current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

“Publiacqua has always justified the exorbitant costs of its water bills – €402 per family in 2015 – with the enormous amount of investments in the network. The truth will out in the end. The damage to Florence is incalculable,” she said.

Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

The collapse affected about 200 metres (650 feet) of the embankment and authorities stopped traffic along the road.

Local geologist Vittorio Doriano told Il Tempo daily that the collapse was caused by two blowouts in the water pipe, one around 1 a.m. and the other a few hours later which caused “considerable damage”.

“It shows the leak had been there some time,” Doriano said, adding that the repairs would be “a lengthy job”. Italy's Transport Minister Riccardo Nencini said the government was following the “complex situation” closely and Nardella said local magistrates had opened a preliminary probe which would look at whether water company Publiacqua was to blame.

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