Venice, Italy | AFP | Saturday 11/17/2019 – 04:22 UTC+8
By: Filippo Monteforte with Charles Onians in Rome
Venice was braced Saturday for an unprecednted third major flooding in less than a week, with sea water due to swamp the already devastated historic city where authorities have declared a state of emergency.
Mayor Luigi Brugnaro ordered the iconic St Mark’s Square closed on Friday as the latest sea surge struck with strong storms and winds battering the region.
After a brief respite on Saturday, the city forecast a high water of 160 centimetres (over five feet) for just after midday on Sunday, lower than Tuesday’s high of 187 centimetres but still dangerous.
Churches, shops and homes in the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, have been inundated by unusually intense “acqua alta”, or high water, which on Tuesday hit its highest level in half a century.
“We’ve destroyed Venice, we’re talking about one billion (euros) in damage,” Brugnaro said after the second major flooding of around 160 centimetres hit on Friday.
The Italian football team travelled to Venice on Saturday to show solidarity with the stricken city.
“On behalf of the whole team, we stand close to the city of Venice,” said Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The Italian football federation delegation visited several businesses damaged by the flooding, and chatted with Venetians, volunteers and police.
“Venice will overcome this too. Like an athlete who suffers a serious injury and then gets up again,” said delegation chief and former Azzurri international Gianluca Vialli.
The crisis has prompted the government to release 20 million euros ($22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.
Surveying the damage, Culture Minister Dario Franceschini warned the task of repairing the city would be huge. More than 50 churches had suffered damage, he said.
Hotel reservations cancelled
Residents whose houses have been hit are eligible for up to 5,000 euros in immediate government aid, while restaurant and shop owners can receive up to 20,000 euros and apply for more later.
Most of the city’s cash machines were no longer working because of the water, making life even more difficult for tourists and Venetians.
Despite being used to the inconvenience of their city’s rising waters, some inhabitants expressed frustration.
“All the stock in the basement is lost,” lamented Luciano, a worker at a shop along St. Mark’s Square.
He said he remembered well the infamous “acqua alta” of 1966, when the water rose to a level of 1.94 metres, the highest since records began in 1923.
“These so frequent high waters have never happened before…this time there’s so much more damage than in the past,” he said.
Hotels reported cancelled reservations, some as far ahead as December, following the widespread diffusion of images of Venice underwater.
Tuesday’s high waters submerged around 80 percent of the city, officials said.
Many, including Venice’s mayor, have blamed the disaster on global warming and warned that the country prone to natural disasters must wake up to the risks posed by ever more volatile seasons.
The Serenissima, as the floating city is called, is home to 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.
A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.
The speaker of Italy’s Senate, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, visited Venice on Saturday and called for the MOSE project to be completed.
“Once the emergency is over, the light on Venice should not go out,” Italian media reported.
“Venice needs attention. Now is the time to do it and if the MOSE serves as it should to avoid such disasters, then it must be finished.”
© Agence France-Presse
Cover image: A general view shows a bottle of wine floating on the water of the flooded St. Mark’s Square, with St. Mark’s Basilica (Rear L) and the Bell Tower on November 15, 2019 in Venice, two days after the city suffered its highest tide in 50 years. (Photo by Filippo Monteforte / AFP)