Venice 'on its knees' as worst flood in 53 years hits islands

Water levels reached 74 inches, bypassing the city's usual flood defenses. The mayor has called on Rome to declare a state of emergency.

Luca Bruno/AP
Tourists pull their suitcases along catwalks set up during a high tide in Venice on Nov. 13, 2019. The water hit 74 inches, covering more than 85% of the city and stopping only two inches short of the infamous 1966 flood levels.

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 dollars in damages.

Water levels reached 74 inches Tuesday, the second-highest level ever recorded in the city and 2 ½ inches less 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 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, with water entering through the windows and bypassing all defenses. Damage was also reported at the Ca’ Pesaro modern art gallery, where a short circuit set off a fire, and at La Fenice theater, 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.”

Mr. Brugnaro said damage would reach hundreds of millions of dollars, 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,” Mr. Brugnaro told reporters. “Because the population drain also is a result of this.”

The flooding was caused by heavy rains coinciding a full moon that brought high tides that were pushed into Venice by southerly winds. At the same time, rising sea levels due to 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.

Photos on social media showed a city ferry, taxi boats, and gondolas grounded on walkways flanking canals. At least 60 boats were damaged, according to civil protection authorities.

Pellestrina was one of the worst hit areas. Facing the sea, water came over the banks of the canal and filled the island like a basin. Mr. Carrella said more than 3 feet of water remained Wednesday due to broken pumps.

Mr. Brugnaro blamed climate change for the “dramatic situation” and called for a speedy completion of a long-delayed project to construct offshore barriers.

Called “Moses,” the moveable undersea barriers are meant to limit flooding. But the project, which was opposed by environmentalists concerned about damaging the delicate lagoon eco-system, has been delayed by cost overruns and corruption scandals, with no launch date in site.

Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region, told SkyTG24 that the barriers were almost complete, but it wasn’t clear if they would work against such flooding.

“Despite 5 billion euros [5.5 billion dollars] under water, St. Mark’s Square certainly wouldn’t be secure,’’ Mr. Zaia said, referring to one of Venice’s lowest points, which floods when there is an inundation of 31.5 inches.

Mr. Zaia also expressed concern for snowfalls in the mountains above Venice, where up to 47 inches was expected.

Across the Adriatic Sea, heavy storms and sweeping winds also caused floods in towns in Croatia and Slovenia.

In the Croatian town of Split, authorities on Wednesday said that the flooding submerged the basement area of the Roman-era Diocletian’s Palace where emergency crews battled to pump out the water.

Slovenia’s coastal towns of Piran, Izola, and Koper reported that sea levels reached the second highest point in the last 50 years.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP reporter Jovana Gec contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Venice 'on its knees' as worst flood in 53 years hits islands
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2019/1113/Venice-on-its-knees-as-worst-flood-in-53-years-hits-islands
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe