Venice flooding marks highest tides in 50 years, causing damage to historical buildings in Italy
Venice was hit by an unprecedented third major flooding in less than a week, with sea water swamping the already devastated historic city where authorities declared a state of emergency. On Sunday, 17 November 2019, the city's iconic St Mark's Square was closed again for the second time in three days, as rain lashed the rest of Italy and warnings were issued in Florence and Pisa. The medieval city suffered another exceptional high tide on Sunday, with the water peaking at 4,9 feet (150cm), marking the worst week for the city since official tide statistics were produced in 1872.
The city's centre for tide forecasts had warned the tide could reach 160 cm on Sunday and the high mark hit at 12h10 was not far short of that. Water flooded St Mark's Square and hundreds of voluntary workers were helping citizens cope with the emergency.
It would be the first time Venice has seen such high tides twice in one year. So far the estimated damage from the invading salt water has hit over $1billion. The city forecast 'acqua alta' or high water, of more than five feet for just after midday, lower than Tuesday's 187 centimetres, the highest level in half a century but still dangerous.
The renewed threat from exceptionally intense flooding came after a brief respite on Saturday with visitors seen wading through the reopened St Mark's Square. The top tourist site had been shut for several hours on Friday, 15 November 2019, as strong storms and winds battered the region, leaving it submerged by sea surges but it had to be closed off again on Sunday as forecasters predicted more rising water levels.
Churches, shops and homes have also been inundated in the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city beloved around the world for its canals, historic architecture and art, was hit by a high tide at 6,14 feet (187cm) on Tuesday, 12 November 2019. That was just short of the record 194cm set in 1966 and caused the city's worst flooding in 50 years.
Stores and museums in Venice were mostly closed in the hardest-hit area around St Mark's Square but tourists donning high rubber boots or even hip waders still came to witness and photograph the spectacle. Most were disappointed when officials closed down the historic square as winds ripple across the rising waters. The doors of the famed St. Mark's Basilica were securely shut to the public, while officials took precautions, stacking sandbags in canal-side windows, to prevent water from entering the crypt again.
In normal conditions, tides of 80 to 90cm are generally seen as high but manageable. With four tides above 140 cm since Monday, 11 November 2019, this is the worst week for high tides in Venice since 1872 when official statistics were first produced.
Among the crowd gathered around the ornate basilica in bright shoe covers and plastic boots on Saturday were members of the Italian football team, who 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, chatting 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 $22 million (20 million euros) in funds to tackle the devastation. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has warned the task of repairing the city, where more than 50 churches have suffered damage, will be huge. And Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the floods had 'destroyed Venice' after the second major flooding of around 160 centimetres hit on Friday. He tweeted, “Maximum attention for today's tide. The safety apparatus has been activated. Thanks to all those who are looking after Venice and intervene when needed.”
A total of seven Italian cities were on high alert on Sunday after heavy rain overnight, with authorities in Florence and Pisa among those closely monitoring the Arno river, whose water levels rose rapidly in the night due to heavy rain. To the south of Venice, Tuscany president, Enrico Rossi, tweeted a warning of a 'flood wave' on the Arno and said boards were being installed on the swollen river's banks in Pisa 'as a precautionary measure'.
Italian media showed paratroopers helping to bolster river defences in Pisa, with authorities monitoring the same river in Florence after heavy rain made it rise dramatically overnight.
Arno flooding devastated Renaissance jewel, Florence, in 1966, killing around 100 people and destroying thousands of priceless works of art. Civil protection units in Florence advised citizens 'not to stand near the Arno's river banks'.
Venetian 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.
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. The square was open again on Saturday but the city forecast a high water of 160cm (over five feet) for Sunday, lower than Tuesday's high of 187cm but still dangerous. “We've destroyed Venice, we're talking about one billion (euros) in damage,” Brugnaro said.
Civil protection authorities downgraded a weather 'red alert' for the Venice region to orange, with Saturday's midday high forecast to be a manageable 105cm.
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.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared a state of emergency for the city on Thursday, 14 November 2019.
Mayor Brugnaro on Friday also announced the opening of a fund where people in Italy and around the world could contribute to the historic city's repair. One tourist, Italian Nicole Righetti, said she would be willing to pitch in. “It would be a shame to no longer be able to see these places, and I think everyone should give,” Righetti said.
Source: Daily Mail