Badged and searched: Sicily G7 fortress town irks locals

On camera, it's picture-perfect. A G7 summit taking place under gentle sunshine in a Sicilian town perched on a hill overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, Mount Etna billowing a plume of smoke in the background.

Badged and searched: Sicily G7 fortress town irks locals
Residents in Taormina are fed up with the G7. Photo:Marie-Laure Messana/AFP

But behind the scenes lies security so drastic that the entire town of Taormina has been cordoned off, its residents forced to wear badges to move around streets shorn of all tourists.

“The town is unrecognisable, the streets are empty and most shops are closed,” says Antonella Calopardo, a local resident.

Italian authorities are taking no chances to protect the leaders of the world's seven richest democracies, who have gathered in Taormina to discuss the thorny issues of climate change, trade and worldwide security threats.

Close to 3,300 soldiers, thousands more police and some 250 planes, helicopters, drones and navy ships have been deployed.

'Business is bad'

Locals going in and out of the jet-set town that once played host to the likes of Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Elizabeth Taylor are forced to wait at airport-style checkpoints to be scanned, their cars and scooters methodically searched.

At one of the entrances, a man put his grocery shopping on an X-ray belt, the security guard squashing down a salad before it went through.

Of the 4,000 journalists staying outside Taormina, the few allowed in have to pass security hours before the actual event they have to cover.

Once inside, delegates and reporters stroll through the cobbled streets or whizz around in golf buggies, vendors at empty tourist shops looking quizzically on.

“Business is bad considering the season but what can you do?” says one cafe worker near an ancient Greek theatre where the orchestra of Milan's La Scala opera house played for leaders.

“My customers today are mainly policemen and diplomats.”

Nearby, a few children ride their bikes, their security badges dangling around their necks.

Soldiers and police stand guard on every corner in what has become a fortress town.

“I'd like it to finish. The sooner it ends, the better,” said Giovanna Corvaia, a resident.

But for some locals hoping to get a glimpse of US President Donald Trump, the whole event is intriguing.

And they hope that the world spotlight on Taormina will attract even more tourists in future.

“It's worth some sacrifices,” said Luigi Scaffidi, 62.

Protests go unseen

Journalists and activists are parked further down from Taormina in the beachside resort town of Giardini Naxos.

Greenpeace staged a protest there on Friday, erecting the phrase “climate justice now” on the beach, complete with a replica of the Statue of Liberty wearing a life-jacket.

But very few people were there to see it given the smothering security all around.

A larger-scale protest was scheduled for Saturday, forcing some shops to close owing to fears of unrest.

But whatever the scale of the demonstration, the leaders themselves won't see it from their picturesque hilltop bunker.

By Marianne Barriaux and Ellen Hasenkamp


Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue

Sicily's residents are bracing for the arrival of a cyclone later on Thursday, the second this week after a deadly storm hammered the Italian island, killing three people.

Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue
Cars and market stalls submerged in Catania, Sicily, after heavy rain hit the city and province on october 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

A rare tropical-style cyclone known as a “medicane” is set to reach Sicily’s eastern coast and the tip of mainland Calabria between Thursday evening and Friday morning, according to Italian public research institute ISPRA.

“Heavy rainfall and strong sea storms are expected on the coast, with waves of significant height over 4.5 metres (15 feet),” ISPRA said.

The Italian Department for Civil Protection placed eastern Sicily under a new amber alert for Thursday and the highest-level red lert for Friday in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, after almost a week of extreme weather in the area.

A total of three people have been reported killed in flooding on the island this week amid storms that left city streets and squares submerged.

On Tuesday, parts of eastern Sicily were ravaged by a cyclone following days of heavy rains that had sparked flooding and mudslides, killing three people.

Television images from Tuesday showed flooding in the emergency room of Catania’s Garibaldi-Nesima hospital, while rain was seen pouring from the roof inside offices at the city courtroom.

Thursday’s storm was set to hit the same area around Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city, even as residents were still mucking out their streets and homes.

Schools were closed in Syracuse and Catania, where the local government ordered public offices and courts closed through Friday.

The mayor of Catania on Tuesday shut down all businesses and urged residents to stay home.

Antonio Navarra, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper this week that Sicily was at the centre of extreme weather events, including heatwaves and cyclones.

“We’re trying to understand if, with climate change, these phenomena will become even more intense, if they will change their character as their frequency intensifies,” he said.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves

Cars submerged in Catania, Sicily, after storms hit the city and province on October 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

Other forecasters have said the “medicane” is the latest evidence that the climate crisis is irreversibly tropicalising the Mediterranean, after the island’s south-eastern city of Syracuse this August recorded a temperature of 48.8C, the hottest ever seen in Europe.

“Sicily is tropicalising and the upcoming medicane is perhaps the first of this entity, but it certainly won’t be the last,” Christian Mulder, a professor of ecology and climate emergency at the University of Catania, told The Guardian on Wednesday.

“We are used to thinking that this type of hurricane and cyclone begins in the oceans and not in a closed basin like the Mediterranean. But this is not the case,” he said.

“This medicane is forming due to the torrid climate of north Africa and the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Aegean Sea has a temperature of 3C higher than the average, while the Ionian Sea has a temperature of almost 2C higher than the average. The result is a pressure cooker.”

The storm is expected to leave the area between Saturday and Sunday.