Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation

 

 

Much of Venice was underwater on Wednesday after the highest tide in 50 years ripped through the historic Italian city, beaching gondolas, trashing hotels and sending tourists fleeing through rapidly rising waters.

Officials blamed climate change while shopkeepers on the Grand Canal raged against those who have failed to protect the Unesco city from the high tide.

They said corruption had repeatedly delayed a barrier protection system which could have prevented the disaster.

“The city is on its knees,” Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said in an interview with national broadcaster RAI.

“There’s widespread devastation,” he said in the famed St. Mark’s Square, which bore the brunt of the flooding. “In all likelihood the damage from last night runs into hundreds of millions of euros”.

Tourists lugging heavy suitcases waded in thigh-high galoshes or barefoot through the submerged alleys, as water taxi and gondola drivers baled sewage-tainted water out of their trashed vessels.

A 78-year old was killed by electric shock as the waters poured into his home.

“We ask the government to help us, the costs will be high,” Brugnaro tweeted. “These are the effects of climate change.”

Environment Minister Sergio Costa blamed climate change and the “tropicalisation” of violent rainfall and strong winds.

“This is what is happening more and more often in the Mediterranean,” Costa said on Facebook, referring to

“Global warming will destroy our planet if we do not immediately reverse the direction.”

The exceptionally intense “acqua alta,” or high waters, peaked at 1.87 metres (six feet). Only once since records began in 1923 has the water crept even higher, reaching 1.94 metres in 1966.

“It was unbelievable, the water rose so quickly,” said resident Tiziano Collarin, 59, as he surveyed the damage.

“Windows were blown out, there are those who have lost everything,” he said as the flood alarm rang out to warn those in the canal city that the tide, which had receded somewhat overnight, was coming in once again.

The fire brigade said it had carried out over 400 operations as well as laying on extra boats as water ambulances.

Around 160 fire fighters were deployed to rescue people stranded on jetties and to recover boats broken free from their moorings.

President of the Veneto region Luca Zaia said 80 percent of the city had been submerged, causing “unimaginable damage”.

‘Horrifying’

German tourist Gabi Brueckner, 58, said the nighttime drama had been “horrifying”.

She said she feared ,like many people, that climate change “will get worse and at some point Venice will drown”.

A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been underway since 2003 to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.

The plan involves 78 gates that can be raised to protect Venice’s lagoon during high tides — but a recent attempt to test part of the barrier caused worrying vibrations and engineers discovered parts had rusted.

“They’ve done nothing, neglected it. It doesn’t work and they have stolen six billion euros. The politicians should all be put in jail,” said local Dino Perzolla, 62.

St. Mark’s Square in one of the lowest parts of the city was particularly affected, its vestibule inundated with water.

“It was apocalyptic, enough to give you goosebumps,” said Marina Vector, as she and her husband used buckets to scoop water out of their shop selling Venetian festival masks.

“The storm was so bad it broke the marble flood barrier out front. Nothing’s survived,” she said.

Tables and chairs set out for aperitifs bobbed outside bedraggled luxury hotels, where people of all ages seeking safety from the storm late Tuesday had been forced to climb in through windows after gangways washed away.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. There was a terrifying wind, it was a hurricane. It was horrible,” said local Cristina, as she fought back tears.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Ella Ide
Ella Ide
Writing and Editing AFP.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against the...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

Micro-hydropower lights up an Eastern Cape village

There is hidden potential for small hydropower plants in South Africa

More top stories

Life-saving free train travel offered to domestic abuse victims in...

A pioneering railway scheme in the UK is helping domestic violence victims to escape their abusers by providing them with free travel to reach refuge

Oral submissions to inquiry on local government elections start next...

The hearings will be open to the media and the public, under strict level-three regulations

Education employees queue for Covid jabs, but some may have...

People who have had Covid-19 in the past 30 days or who have had a flu shot in the past 14 days will be vaccinated at a later date

Mabuyakhulu: I took the R1-million, but not from Savoi

The former ANC provincial treasurer says the donation was used to pay for its conference in 2008
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×