St Mark's Square closed as water again invades Venice, rain lashes Italy

St Mark's Square closed as water again invades Venice, rain lashes Italy

A city worker helps a woman who decided to cross St. Mark square
A city worker helps a woman who decided to cross St Mark square on a gangway, in spite of prohibition, in Venice, Italy, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: AP/Luca Bruno)

VENICE: Venice's St Mark's Square was closed on Sunday (Nov 17) as the historic city suffered its third major flooding in less than a week, while rain lashing the rest of Italy prompted warnings in Florence and Pisa.

Venice's latest "acqua alta", or high water, hit 150cm on Sunday, lower than Tuesday's 187cm - the highest level in half a century - but still dangerous.

"The water has stopped rising," tweeted mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who has estimated damage so far from the invading salt water at more than €1 billion.

"High of 150cm ... Venice is working to restart," Brugnaro said after the sea water swamped the already devastated city where authorities have declared a state of emergency.

READ: Italy declares state of emergency in Venice after flood

Flooding in the lagoon city of Venice
Men wade through water during high tide in Venice, Italy, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Alberto Lingria)

To the south, 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".

The Italian army tweeted photos of 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 riverbanks".

Firefighters tweeted footage of a hovercraft being deployed to rescue stranded citizens in southern Tuscany's Grossetano province.

BRIEF RESPITE

The renewed threat from exceptionally high tides in Venice came after a brief respite on Saturday.

Emergency workers removed temporary walkways from St Mark's Square as the water started to rise on Sunday, with only police and soldiers visible at around midday.

READ: Flooding drowns St Mark's priceless mosaics in sewage

Tourists walk in St. Mark’s Square after days of severe flooding in Venice
Tourists walk in St. Mark’s Square after days of severe flooding in Venice, Italy, November 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Manuel Silvestri)

The top tourist site had already been shut for several hours on Friday as strong storms and winds battered the region, leaving it submerged by sea surges.

Churches, shops and homes have also been inundated in the Renaissance city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but the multi-billion euro project has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.

READ: As tides rise, flooded Venice awash with colourful plastic boots

Flooding in the lagoon city of Venice
A man pushes a cart through water during high tide in Venice, Italy Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Alberto Lingria)

"We weren't expecting the high waters to be so exceptionally high," said Guido Fulgenzi, who had planned to open his cafe on St Mark's square this week.

"We're paying the price" for the MOSE project not being completed, he said, sloshing around in his flooded kitchen and pointing to Tuesday's high water mark on the wall.

The crisis has prompted the government to release €20 million (US$22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has warned that the task of repairing the city, where more than 50 churches have suffered damage, will be huge.

HOTEL RESERVATIONS CANCELLED

Residents whose houses have been hit are eligible for up to €5,000 in immediate government aid, while restaurant and shop owners can receive up to €20,000 and apply for more later.

Most of the city's cash machines were no longer working, making life even more difficult for tourists and Venetians.

READ: Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation

Tourists walk in St. Mark’s Square after days of severe flooding in Venice
Tourists walk in St. Mark’s Square after days of severe flooding in Venice, Italy, Nov 16, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Manuel Silvestri)

"We didn't expect there to be so much water, now we're soaked," said French tourist Magali Mariolou, visiting Venice for her wedding anniversary.

"We'll come back another year when it's a bit drier. The boots are heavy, they're full of water!"

Older residents who remember the infamous "acqua alta" of 1966, when the water rose to 1.94m, say they have not seen such frequent flooding before.

Hotels reported cancelled reservations, some as far ahead as December, following the widespread diffusion of images of Venice underwater.

READ: Flood, fire and plague: Climate change blamed for disasters

People walks in a flooded street in Venice
People walk in a flooded street in Venice, during "acqua alta", or high water, of 160cm, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Filippo Monteforte)

Tuesday's high waters submerged around 80 per cent 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.

Source: AFP/zl

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