ROME – Around 80% of Venice is underwater in what has been described as “apocalyptic devastation.”
Those were the words of President of Veneto Luca Zaia as Italian authorities scrambled to tackle the worst flooding in the canal city since 1966.
“Venice is on its knees. St. Mark’s Basilica been severely damaged and so has the rest of the city and its islands,” Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said following one of the most testing nights in the exposed city’s recent history.
The mayor told a press conference that he had met with people in tears “because they had lost everything” and that it was now time for a “historic response” to save one of Italy’s most popular destinations.
The Italian city has experienced its worst flooding in four decades amid an exceptionally high tide.
The phenomenon, known in the popular tourist destination as high waters (acqua alta), saw parts of the city covered by 187 centimeters (73.6 inches) of seawater late Tuesday and buffeted by strong winds.
In 1966, water levels peaked at 194cm.
The city’s warning sirens blared three times overnight and the damage wrought by the high waters was plain to see, although the exact damage to the famous city will be revealed once the flooding has subsided.
Gondolas and boats have been torn from their moorings and three vaporetti, waterbus, had capsized and another was adrift.
At least 60 vessels have been damaged, according to initial reports.
Shops, restaurants, and hotels in the city center have also been completely flooded.
The adverse conditions also claimed the life of a 78-year-old man who was electrocuted when he tried to start a generator at his house on the island of Pellestrina, south of the city.
Venice authorities have called on the central Italian government to declare a regional state of natural disaster and to prepare assistance for damages.
In response, the executive said it would discuss “necessary and urgent intervention to protect citizens” at the next cabinet meeting.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and several ministers have traveled to the city.
All schools in Venice and its islands were closed on Wednesday while areas like St. Mark’s Square were off-limits to tourists.
“It is devastation,” the director of the Venetian Hoteliers Association, Claudio Scarpa, told reporters.
“The damages are enormous and unfortunately it does not look like it is about to stop, the high tide is ongoing.
“The electrical panels at the hotel have tripped and therefore the pumps cannot be used to draw the water.”
Italy’s Civil Protection service said 130 firefighters were deployed to Venice.
Experts have warned that the high waters were expected to continue throughout the week with another peak of 138cm recorded on Wednesday morning.
The fate of St. Mark’s Basilica, which was severely damaged by flooding in October 2018 and was still undergoing restoration, was a major concern for city authorities.
Overnight, the water levels hit 110cm and submerged the crypt of the building.
Once the flooding recedes, conservation teams can evaluate the damage caused by saltwater to valuable mosaics and marble.
Patriarch of Venice Francesco Moraglia said at a press conference he had never seen flooding like that which hit the area overnight.
He added that waves were rolling across St. Mark’s square.
La Fenice opera house was also damaged in the flooding, but its main stage escaped unscathed so far.
The damage could push back the inauguration of the opera season set to start on 24 November.
The Culture Ministry has ordered a crisis unit to protect Venice’s cultural heritage.
As the flooding crept through the city, fresh controversy arose once again about the delay to the flood-defense system currently being constructed where the city meets the Adriatic Sea.
Known as the MOSE project, the mobile levy system designed to protect the Venetian lagoon was due to be finished in 2018 but was pushed back to 2022.
At a cost of more than five billion euros, the system aims to protect the city from high tides up to three meters.
The MOSE project has come under criticism by environmentalist groups and was even the center of a corruption scandal that saw the former mayor and 34 others forced to resign. – EFE-EPA / Cristina Cabrejas
Multiple dams on Huai River continued releasing floodwaters on Tuesday (July 21) as east China still faced huge pressure of surging waters.
After 24 hours since the Wangjiaba station opened its sluice gates to discharge water on Monday (July 20), the water level at the hydrological station only declined by 0.22 meters (0.72 ft.), state broadcaster CCTV reported, lower than experts’ expectations as floodwater continued to rise on the upper stream of the Huai River.
At Yingshang county in eastern Anhui province, sluices were opened at three dams to divert floodwater to nearby buffer areas, home to nearly 160,000 people in eight villages, according to local media reports.
In central Hubei province, a landslide has blocked the Qingjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze River, forming a dammed lake which poses a threat to nearby villages and the downstream city of Enshi, said CCTV.
Torrential rains have battered large swathes of China for weeks, raising water levels in local rivers and lakes. (Reuters)
Heavy rainstorms triggered massive floods in southwestern China, where at least 12 people were killed and 10 remain missing, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday (June 29).
Torrential rain in the north of Mianning county, in Sichuan province, on Friday evening (June 26) through to early Saturday morning (June 27) changed the path of the river, inundating a large area of farmland, cutting off local roads and damaging village homes, said CCTV. The river in the county is a tributary of the Yalong, which is part of the Yangtze river system.
The local government has evacuated a total of 7,705 people, according to the state news agency Xinhua, and rescue efforts are still underway.
Meanwhile, heavy downpours over the weekend in central China’s Hubei province has affected more than 650,000 people in 24 cities and counties, including Jingmen with 301 mm of rainfall in 20 hours, CCTV said. The local Han River tributary in Jingmen is also part of the larger Yangtze river system.
China’s national observatory on Monday issued a blue alert for rainstorms as heavy downpours continue to wreak havoc in vast stretches of the country, according to Xinhua news agency.
Regions along the banks of the Yangtze and its tributaries are traditionally vulnerable to flooding in China’s summer months, with the impact of heavy rainfall worsened by deforestation, dwindling flood plains and the diversion of natural river systems for hydropower and irrigation.
This year, China has also been bracing itself against heavier than usual downpours. With water volumes in 148 rivers already reaching emergency levels by mid-June, the government has told local authorities to pay attention to potential dam and reservoir collapses as well as the risks of mountain floods.
Central and eastern regions of the country are set to bear the brunt this week, with some provinces forecasting 30-50 mm of rain per hour by Wednesday (July 1), the country’s meteorological administration said on Monday. (Reuters)
The Italian-Swiss border reopened on Monday (June 15) allowing people living in the border towns of Como and Chiasso to freely cross the border which separates the two countries.
A long line of cars carrying Italian cross-border commuters working in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino reached Switzerland through the border of Chiasso as coronavirus (COVID-19) travel restrictions across Europe are gradually eased.
It is hoped the opening of borders with fellow European Union countries could help salvage the summer season for the country’s battered travel and tourism industry.
The Schengen area of 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland operates control-free crossings, but they have been mostly closed for three months to all but goods traffic and critical workers.
Before the crisis, an average of 3.5 million people crossed an internal EU border every day, according to a European Parliament report last year, some 1.7 million of the commuting to work. (Reuters)
(Production: Alex Fraser, Gabriele Pileri, Fabiano Franchitti)
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