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Venice ‘on its knees’ after second-worst flood ever recorded

Venice is sinking

The worst flooding in Venice in more than 50 years prompted calls Wednesday to better protect the historic city from rising sea levels as officials calculated hundreds of millions of euros in damage.

The water reached 1.87 metres (6.14 feet) above sea level Tuesday, the second-highest level ever recorded in the city and just 7 centimetres (2 1/2 inches) lower than the historic 1966 flood. Another wave of exceptionally high water followed Wednesday.

“Venice is on its knees,’’ Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said on Twitter. “St. Mark’s Basilica has sustained serious damage, like the entire city and its islands.”

One death was blamed on the flooding, on the barrier island of Pellestrina. A man in his 70s was apparently electrocuted when he tried to start a pump in his dwelling, said Danny Carrella, an official on the island of 3,500 inhabitants.

In Venice, the crypt beneath St. Mark’s Basilica was inundated for only the second time in its history, as water entered through the windows and past all protections. Damage was also reported at the Ca’ Pesaro modern art gallery, where a short circuit set off a fire, and at La Fenice theatre, where authorities turned off electricity as a precaution after the control room was flooded.

Tourists floated suitcases through St. Mark’s Square, where officials removed walkways to prevent them from floating away. The water was so high that nothing less than thigh-high boots afforded protection. Water poured through wooden boards that shop and hotel owners have previously placed in front of doors to hold back water during flooding. Tourists staying on the ground floor of hotels were forced to move to upper floors overnight.

“I have often seen St. Mark’s Square covered with water,’’ Venice’s patriarch, Monsignor Francesco Moraglia, told reporters. “Yesterday there were waves that seemed to be the seashore.”

Brugnaro said damage would reach hundreds of millions of euros, and he called on Rome to declare a state of emergency. Premier Giuseppe Conte was due to visit the city later Wednesday.

“We are not just talking about calculating the damages, but of the very future of the city’’ Brugnaro told reporters. “Because the population drain also is a result of this.”

The flooding was caused by heavy rains coinciding with a full moon that brought high tides that were pushed into Venice by southerly winds. At the same time, rising sea levels because of climate change make the city built amid a system of canals even more vulnerable.

Damage included five ferries that serve as water buses, a critical means of transportation.



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