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Italy declares state of emergency after Venice submerged in 6 feet of water

WATCH: Floodwaters have devastated Venice, Italy, triggering a state of emergency. At least two people have died.

Italy declared a state of emergency in Venice after the city was submerged in six feet of water, flooding homes and small businesses and damaging the city’s historic St. Mark’s Basilica.

At a meeting, cabinet approved a special decree that included 20 million euros (C$29.2 million) in immediate financial aid aimed at helping the city recover.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also said he was working on a compensation plan for private citizens and businesses affected by the floods.

“The disaster that struck Venice is a blow to the heart of our country,” Conte said on Facebook after spending Wednesday night in Venice. “It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised.”

People walk in the flooded St. Mark’s Square during a period of seasonal high water in Venice, Italy, on Nov. 14, 2019.
People walk in the flooded St. Mark’s Square during a period of seasonal high water in Venice, Italy, on Nov. 14, 2019. Manuel Silvestri / REUTERS

By Tuesday evening, city officials said the tide peaked at 187 centimetres, making it one of the highest floods in the city’s history, second only to 1966, when Venice saw a 194-centimetre deluge of water.

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READ MORE: Venice mayor declares disaster as city hit with 2nd-highest tide in history

The near-historic flooding has killed two people and left the city scrambling to protect its citizens. In a tweet, the city’s fire brigade said it had responded to more than 1,300 calls due to landslides, landfalls and flooding since Tuesday.

Conte said more than 80 per cent of Venice was under water when the tide was at its highest. Although levels had receded by daybreak, further bad weather was expected later in the week, with a series of storms lining up to batter Italy.

People walk across a makeshift walkway over the flooded St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, on Nov. 14, 2019.
People walk across a makeshift walkway over the flooded St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, on Nov. 14, 2019. Manuel Silvestri / REUTERS

Luigi Brugnaro, the city’s mayor, blamed climate change for the rising sea levels and claimed the flooding brought his city “to its knees” in a tweet on Wednesday.

“The damage will run into hundreds of millions of euros,” he said.

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Venice’s huge St. Mark’s Square, once described as Europe’s living room, was inundated by more than one metre of water, while the adjacent St. Mark’s Basilica was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years — but the fourth in the last 20.

Venice Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, a senior cleric, told reporters Saint Mark’s Basilica risked “irreparable” harm.

“The basilica is suffering structural damage because the water has risen, and so, it’s causing irreparable damage, especially when it dries out in the lower section of the mosaics and tiling,” Moraglia said at a news conference Wednesday.

A man wades in the flooded crypt of St Mark’s Basilica during a period of exceptionally high water levels in Venice, Italy on Nov. 13.
A man wades in the flooded crypt of St Mark’s Basilica during a period of exceptionally high water levels in Venice, Italy on Nov. 13. Manuel Silvestri / REUTERS

Defensive barriers to prevent the lagoon city from sinking further below sea level have been in place for some time. The MOSE project, proposed in the 1980s by then-Italian deputy prime minister Gianni De Michelis, will consist of flap gates installed at the bottom of the inlets that allow for the temporary separation of the lagoon from the sea during an event of high tide — once it’s completed.

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Since its inception, the cost of the $1.7-billion project has swelled to $8.1 billion. While the flood barrier was designed in 1984 to protect Venice from high tides, the multi-billion-euro project has been plagued by the sort of problems that have come to characterize major Italian infrastructure programs: corruption, cost overruns and prolonged delays.

For Canadians looking to travel to Italy, not much has changed.

The government of Canada has not updated its travel advisories to the country, reminding Canadians to take “normal” security precautions.

Airlines are currently operating normally, and Air Canada has not issued any cancellations to or from Italy as a result of the floods.

Man swims across St. Mark’s square as Venice hit with 2nd highest tide in history
Man swims across St. Mark’s square as Venice hit with 2nd highest tide in history

When it comes to getting around the country, it’s business as usual. According to the Vaporetto website, the city’s water bus appears to be up and running.

Many hotels in Venice took on extensive water damage from the floods. The luxury Gritti Palace hotel, a landmark of Venice that looks onto the lagoon, was also flooded.

Claudio Scarpa, director of the Venice hotel association, thanked the fire brigade and said he was in the process of getting an estimate of the damages from the floods in a series of tweets on Tuesday.

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— With files from Reuters