With local authorities blaming climate change, Venice has been hit with the worst flooding in more than 50 years. Two people have died, and historical landmarks have been seriously affected as ties of more than 140cm (55 inches) have affected up to 85% of the city.
This is the second-worst flood experienced Venice since measurements began in 19223, following the record of 1.94 meters in 1966. Mayor Luigi Brugnaro tweeted that the city “is on its knees” and imposed a state of emergency, claiming the damage has been “enormous.”
He also added that he expects this type of event to become more and more common as climate change takes its toll through sea level rise.
‘This is result of climate change,’ says Venice mayor. "Now the government must listen," he added. "These are the effects of climate change… the costs will be high."
In Pellestrina, an island in the Venetian lagoon, an elderly man died after being hit by lightning as he tried to use a water pump, according to the fire brigade. A second death was also reported, as a man was found dead at his home following the floods.
“We ask the government to help us. This is the result of climate change,” Brugnaro said. “We are not just talking about calculating the damages, but of the very future of the city. There have been untold damages to houses, shops, activities, and monuments. We risked our lives.”
Wooden piles are the core structure that keeps Venice standing. But this is now threatened by rising sea levels and a growing number of cruises entering the city, leading it to gradually sink. Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture, said there will be funding available for Venice.
Developed in 1984, the city started working on a flood barrier project called Mose, which was supposed to prevent situations like the current one. But Mose is not yet operational and has been repeatedly delayed due to many problems such as corruption and higher costs.
Brugnaro said the city’s current problems would have been avoided if Mose had been operational. The project was supposed to start working in 2011 but now Brugnaro said they aim at 2021. It involves 78 gates that would be raised during high-tide season, but initial tests have so far failed.
Among the most affected historic landmarks, St Mark’s Square was affected with more than one meter of water and its adjacent basilica suffered its sixth flood in the last 1.200 years. Last time, in 2018, the flood caused damage to the basilica estimated at 1.9 million euros.
Francesco Moraglia, archbishop of Venice, said St Marks suffered “structural damage” and claimed this was causing “irreparable harm in the lower section of the mosaics and tiling.” For Carlo Alberto Tesserin, manager of the site, the water entered into the basilica with a force “never seen before.”
Hotels were also affected, according to the Venice hotel association. The damage was very significant as a large number of hotels lost power and didn’t have pumps to take the water out. Those saying on the ground floors of the hotels were moved to higher floors when water levels started rising.
The flood also hit five ferries that serve as water buses, one of the main ways of transportation in Venice. Social media showed photos of taxi boats and gondolas that were grounded. Boats were handed out by the coastguard to use as water ambulances across the city.
“The art, the basilica, the shops, and the homes, a disaster … Venice is bracing itself for the next high tide,” Luca Zala, governor of the Veneto region, said, describing the images in the city as “apocalyptic devastation.”