According to The Grizzly, natural disasters have been reported throughout central Europe in 2020. One of the most prominent of these disasters in Italy is the experience of extreme flooding. Sardinia recently has experienced the worst of it. Evacuations orders have been called all over. The people are even leaving the city of Bitti, which is located in the epicenter of floods. Not only are there strong winds and the fair share of issues, roads, bridges, homes, and other infrastructures have been compromised. After a flood, most of the area will need major repairs.
Flooding like this also causes numerous other issues such as landslides and mud sweeps. It was stated that this year in Sardinia, they have experienced up to 150 millimeters of rainfall in the span of three days. That number would grow by the end of the same week. Other areas of Italy are still at risk for flooding and have taken precautions to prevent further damage.
Flood waters can be extremely dangerous, the force of inches of swiftly moving water can knock people off their feet and destroy entire towns. On October 25, 2011, the Italian area of Cinque Terre experienced just this when they were hit by a deadly flood.
The five tiny fishing villages, which had long been a magnet four tourists from all over the world, had been hit by one of the worst floods that the area had ever seen. Thirteen people were killed, and many more had to say goodbye to their homes and possessions. The streets of Vernazza, perhaps the most famous of the villages in the town, were feet-deep in mud.
All residents in Cinque Terre have a story to tell about that terrible day. One of the most extraordinary comes from a local hotel owner, Pierpaolo Paradisi, according to CNN. He says that on that fateful day, his life was saved by his beloved dog, Leo, which he has now named his hotel after.
Leo’s Lodge is placed high on the cliffs above Vernazza. Vernazza is part of Prevo, a tiny hamlet that sits directly on the Sentiero Azzurro, or the famous “blue path” which tourists love to walk. Three million visitors a year are said to come to the villages that make up the Cinque Terre.
But a decade ago, Prevo and the Sentiero Azzuro were all destroyed when mudslides happened on the near cliffside. The mudslide had swept away everything in their path and buried the streets below in mud and debris.
During this time, Paradisi was an aspiring hotelier and was working at La Spezia which is the gateway town to the Cinque Terre. Originally from Sardinia, he moved to Liguria 15 years ago. He had been on a hiking vacation when he came across Prevo. At this time, Preco was abandoned and he knew that it would make a great hotel. He started the massive renovation project, but five years later came the flood.
Just a month earlier than the flood, Paradisi rescued a pup from Serbia.
He had been looking on Facebook that summer when he read about a group of animal rights activists. They were Serbian models who brought stray cats and dogs to Italy every time they came for work.
“In the [Yugoslav] war, people had to abandon their pets: dogs, cats, tortoises, so they multiplied,” said Paradisi “So by then there was a problem with stray dogs.”
Strays would be rounded up and taken to kennels where they risked being euthanized if they hadn’t been claimed within 48 hours. Wanting to help the animals, he sent a group a message asking them to choose a dog for him.
The models had picked him a little, tan colored dog from Belgrade.
“I have a picture of the cage in which he was. Out of 48 dogs, he was the only one they saved.”
Leo, as Paradisi would name him, arrived in Liguria on September 25, 2011.
A month later, although dogs were banned from his office, he decided to take his new pet to work. A storm was already brewing in the area and he was uncomfortable leaving the dog at home.
Paradisi said that this decision would end up saving his life.
By the time they arrived to La Spezia, the storm had already begun. It consisted of heavy rain, thunder, and hail. Paradisi decided to leave early from work, fearing the weather would only get worse.
“Even in the first mile, it changed — I’d never seen it worsen like that before,” Paradisi said “There was a tornado of water that hit the mountains, and I couldn’t even see a meter ahead. I had vision of about 30 centimeters, so I was driving extremely slowly.”
Paradisi had put Leo in the back of his car for the last 17 miles of their journey. The dog had sat in silence for most of the ride, but as they got closer to Prevo, Leo made his move.
“He lept into the front and onto my knees, so I had to stop.” said Paradisi.
At the moment he was trying to move his dog off his lap, the cliff in front of them fell away.
“The mountain just came down, and the landslide even took the asphalt and the guardrail. It almost touched the car. A meter further forward, and we’d have been gone,” he said.
Paradisi is still convinced that Leo saved both their lives just by following an instinct.
At the time Paradisi had not realized that he managed to turn the car around and make it as far as Manarola, another of the Cinque Terre villages.
“I called the police and they said, ‘You need to look after yourselves because we can’t do anything, we’re completely isolated — you must try to find help.” said Paradisi.
Paradisi and Leo slept in the car that night. The next day, with the road still destroyed, the pair tried to reach their home on foot. Today, the Sentiero Azzurro path is an idyllic stroll for tourists. On this day, it was far from idyllic for the duo.
“It felt like a warzone,” says Paradisi. “There were five helicopters going around looking for the lost people. There was a sailboat turned over, and people were screaming, looking for others who were missing.”
Paradisi said that when they arrived, even though their house was OK, they still could not get to it because a landslide had cut off the path. Not knowing what else to do, Paradisi called some friends to tell them what happened.
All of his friends still say “It was thanks to Leo that you’re alive.” Paradisi said he had not yet understood that.
Since this day, the business plan has changed. Now, their house is a cliffside hotel properly named Leo’s Lodge.
The pair is inseparable as they monitor the self-catering apartments adorned with a tile of a dog. He now has room for 40 people, between Leo’s Lodge, some apartments and a villa
Leo has many roles in the hotel and accompanying apartments that include greeting guests, accompanying them to their room, carrying out regular security patrols of the property, which sits right on the main footpath, and has tourists walking by every minute.
He also goes with Paradisi every afternoon to pick up guests from nearby Corniglia in their Jeep.
“We’re together 24/7. I take him everywhere I go, even the dentist. The only place I can’t take him is into court,” says Paradisi.
While work continued for the duo, Leo’s fame was spreading far and wide. In 2012, the year following the flood, he was awarded the top prize Premio Internazionale Fedeltà del Cane, or international prize for dog loyalty. Leo was chosen as “first among equals” from 10 equally exceptional dogs.
Just like experts, Paradisi thinks it was no coincidence that Leo stopped him from driving further along the cliffside. He says that although he had initially attributed it to fear on the dog’s part due to the weather, it still feels like there could be more to it.
“They can’t explain it scientifically, but they think some dogs have this capacity, that dogs who suffer trauma develop a seventh sense.” says Paradisi.
According to PetMD, dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to humans which only have five million. That means the part of their brain dedicated to interpreting these is about 40 times larger than ours. They believe that somehow this gives them the capacity to sense danger. Almost like an intuition that we cannot understand.
In fact, his seven cats disappeared in the landslide but miraculously, they all came back over the following months.
“They think that in certain meteorological conditions they can smell something. The ozone that I use to disinfect the rooms these days, that’s what you smell after thunder and lightning. So dogs can probably smell odors that we can’t during such strong weather. The smell, combined with the hail and thunder, must have made him understand we needed to stop.” said Paradisi. “If he’d just been scared, he could have stayed in the back and cried. But he was completely silent, almost like he was listening out for something. And at a certain point, he was like, ‘Basta — that’s enough, we need to stop.’ That’s the sensation I had.”
In fact, Paradisi says, there was a balcony at his old office in La Spezia, which the humans all knew to be dangerous. Just like the cliffside, Leo would not even go inside the room.
Even though the tragedy of 10 years ago has had its permanent effect on Padasisi, he has stayed in the area completing his dream of turning the abandoned village of Prevo into a hotel.
“The flood made me realize that the Cinque Terre is a very dangerous area,” Paradisi said “Geologists think it’ll be the first area in Italy that disappears.”
Now, as soon as he gets a weather warning message, he and Leo go straight home.
“I close myself in the house because it’s much safer to be inside, but I won’t go to bed, I stay on the sofa with Leo and the cats,” Paradisi said “He can sleep there for as long as it’s needed, ready to run, fully clothed, with medication and a torch to hand.”
Leo is around 14 years old now, and Paradisi often thinks about the day he will be left alone.
“It’ll be impossible to substitute him, but I’ll take another, because I want to help another dog. I’ll keep taking them from Serbia.” Paradisi said “I will need to mourn him for a bit, but after a couple of months, I’ll ask for a dog from the same kennel in Belgrade. In honor and in memory of Leo.”
But do not fret any longer, Leo is not going anywhere, and is happily running the lodge by the side of his owner.
In October, Cinque Terre was preparing to commemorate the terrible events of 10 years ago. But for Paradisi, he was thinking back to that afternoon on the road to Vernazza, thankful for the dog that saved him, and his dreams of a hotel by the sea.