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Friday 6 December 2019

Venice damage to 'cost a billion euro' as 70pc of city submerged

League party leader Matteo Salvini visits the flooded St. Mark's Square, as high tide reaches peak, in Venice, Italy November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo
League party leader Matteo Salvini visits the flooded St. Mark's Square, as high tide reaches peak, in Venice, Italy November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

Riccardo Bastianello and Emily G Roe

Venice was inundated by exceptionally high water levels yesterday, only days after the lagoon city suffered its worst flood in more than 50 years.

Saint Mark's Square was submerged and closed to tourists, while shops and hotels were once more invaded by rising waters bringing more misery to the fragile city.

Officials said the high tide peaked at 154cm (5.05ft), slightly below expectations and significantly lower than the 187cm level reached on Tuesday, the second highest tide ever recorded in Venice.

But it was still enough to leave 70pc of the city under water, fraying the nerves of locals who faced yet another large-scale clean-up operation.

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"We have been in this emergency for days and can't put up with any more," said Venetian resident Nava Naccara.

The Italian government has declared a state of emergency for Venice, allocating €20m to address immediate damage, but Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said costs would be vastly higher.

"Venice was destroyed the other day. We are talking about damage totalling a billion euro," Mr Brugnaro said in a video posted on Twitter. "This is a state of emergency, but we are managing it."

Sirens wailed across Venice ,warning of the impending high tide, and the crypt beneath Saint Mark's Basilica was swiftly inundated.

Tides of up to 110-120cm are predicted this weekend, at least 20cm higher than normal levels of high tides.

The mayor has blamed climate change for floods in recent years, with the mean sea level estimated to be more than 20cm higher than a century ago. Groups of volunteers and students have been helping businesses mop up, while schools have closed.

At the city's bookshop Acqua Alta, Italian for high water, staff were trying to dry out thousands of books and prints.

"The only thing we were able to do was to raise the books as much as possible but unfortunately even that wasn't enough. About half of the bookshop was completely flooded," said worker Oriana.

A flood barrier designed to protect Venice is not expected to start working until the end of 2021. (© Reuters)

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