VENICE, Italy (AP) – The Italian government is preparing to declare a state of emergency in Venice ravaged by floodsaimed at quickly securing funding for repairs to the historic lagoon city after the highest tide in 50 years.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the floods as “a blow to the heart of our country”.
He said a cabinet meeting on Thursday afternoon will declare a state of emergency and approve the first steps to help the city recover.
Conte spent Wednesday evening in Venice, where world famous landmarks, homes and businesses were hard hit by the exceptional floods. The water rose to 1.87 meters (6ft, 1in) above sea level on Tuesday, the second highest level on record in the city.
It was only 7 centimeters (2½ inches) less than the historic flood of 1966. Another wave of unusually high water followed on Wednesday. The flooding was caused by southerly winds that pushed a high tide, exacerbated by a full moon, into the city.
Venice’s famous canals are flooded and the mayor blames climate change
Sea level rise due to climate change coupled with the well-documented sinking of Venice makes the city built in the middle of a system of canals particularly vulnerable. Sea levels in Venice are 10 centimeters higher than they were 50 years ago, according to the city’s tide office.
The mayor of Venice said the damage this week is estimated at “hundreds of millions of euros”.
“Venice is on its knees,” Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said on Twitter earlier this week. “St. Mark’s Basilica suffered severe damage, as did the entire city and its islands.
One death was attributed to the flooding on the barrier island of Pellestrina. A septuagenarian was electrocuted while trying to start a pump in his home.
In Venice, the crypt under St. Mark’s Basilica was flooded for only the second time in its history. Damage was also reported at the modern art gallery Ca’ Pesaro, where a short circuit sparked a fire, and at the La Fenice theater, where authorities cut the electricity as a precaution after the hall flooded. control.
Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said no damage had been reported to art collections in the city’s museums. Many venues remained closed to tourists, and La Fenice canceled concerts on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Tourists floated suitcases in St. Mark’s Square, where authorities removed walkways to prevent them from walking away. The wooden planks that store and hotel owners had placed over their doors during previous floods failed to hold the water.
The water was so high that nothing less than waders offered protection. A man was even filmed swimming shirtless in the city’s iconic St. Mark’s Square.
“I have often seen St. Mark’s Square covered with water,” the Patriarch of Venice, Monsignor Francesco Moraglia, told reporters. “Yesterday there were waves that seemed to be the edge of the sea.”
Brugnaro called the fallout catastrophic.
“We are not just talking about calculating the damage, but about the very future of the city,” Brugnaro told reporters, referring to “incalculable damage to homes, shops, activities, not to mention monuments and works of art. We also risked our lives.
The damage included five ferries which serve as water buses, an essential means of transport. Pictures on social media showed water taxis and gondolas anchored on walkways that line the canals.
Brugnaro blamed climate change for the “dramatic situation” and called for the speedy completion of a long-delayed project to build offshore barriers.
Called “Moses”, the mobile underwater barriers are intended to limit flooding. But the project, which has faced opposition from environmentalists concerned about damaging the delicate lagoon ecosystem, has been delayed by cost overruns and corruption scandals. No launch date has yet been set.
Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region, told SkyTG24 that the barriers were almost complete but it was unclear whether they would work against such flooding.