Venice scrambles to save its treasures as floodwaters again submerge the city
Exceptionally high tidal waters surged through Venice again on Friday, prompting the mayor to close St. Mark’s Square and call for more donations for repairs just three days after the city suffered its worst flooding in 50 years.
The high tide peaked at 5 feet above sea level just before noon Friday, flooding most of the historic World Heritage city’s center.
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the damage is estimated in the hundreds of millions of euros and blamed climate change for the “dramatic situation.” He also called for the speedy completion of the city’s long-delayed Moses flood defense project.
Brugnaro told reporters he was forced to have police block off St. Mark’s Square on Friday, which was covered in knee-high water. Workers in high boots removed the raised walkways used by the public to cross the iconic square without getting wet in flood events.
More than 50 churches have reported damage from the tides, Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said as he inspected the city. Carabinieri officers from the corps’ world-renowned squad of art experts were being deployed to map damage to art treasures, a job that is expected to take some time.
“While the water is still there, it’s difficult to know what the [full] damage is,” Franceschini said.
The Italian Space Agency said it was studying radar data from satellites to detect any signs that Venice bell towers may have shifted or that their foundations might have weakened as they were buffeted by the fast-rising waters.
Many people were rising to the challenge of saving Venice’s treasures.
University students in Venice rushed to libraries and other institutions to help move books and manuscripts to higher floors.
The Italian Society of Authors and Editors, which said Venice’s book stores and libraries were “gravely damaged” by the high water, launched a fundraising campaign.
It said one Venice bookstore, poignantly named “Acqua Alta” (High Water), had been completely submerged by the rushing water.
Venice saw its second-worst flooding on record late Tuesday when water levels surpassed 6 feet above sea level, the highest flooding in 50 years.
That prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency on Thursday, approving $22.1 million to help Venice repair the most urgent damage.
“Venice is the pride of all of Italy,” Brugnaro said Friday. “Venice is everyone’s heritage, unique in the world. Thanks to your help, Venice will shine again.”
Venice, built on dozens of islands connected by a system of canals in a lagoon of the Adriatic Sea, is particularly vulnerable to a combination of rising sea levels due to climate change coupled with the city’s well-documented sinking into the mud. The sea level in Venice is 4 inches higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the city’s tide office.
The leader of the right-wing opposition League party, Matteo Salvini, visited Venice on Friday and also called for renewed efforts to complete the Moses flood defense project, which the Italian government now expects to be completed by 2021.
“We can’t waste time, this city is crying for help,” Salvini said.
Tuesday’s devastating floods have reignited a years-long debate over Moses, a multibillion-euro project that has been under construction since 2003. The project has not yet been activated, delayed repeatedly by corruption scandals, cost overruns and opposition from environmentalists worried about its effects on Venice’s delicate lagoon ecosystem.
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