Venice faces more floods as state of emergency declared

VENICE: Flood-hit Venice was bracing for another exceptional high tide Friday, as Italy declared a state of emergency for the Unesco city where perilous deluges have caused millions of euros worth of damage.
Churches, shops and homes in the city of canals have been inundated by unusually intense “acqua alta”, or high waters, which on Tuesday hit their highest level in half a century.
The crisis, driven by bad weather, has prompted the government to release 20 million euros ($22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.
The water was expected to reach 1.5 metres mid-morning on Friday as strong storms and winds batter the region — lower than Tuesday’s peak but still dangerous, local officials said.
Undeterred, tourists have been larking around in the flooded St Mark’s Square in the sunshine during breaks from the rain, snapping selfies in neon plastic boots.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has called the flooding “a blow to the heart of our country”, said late on Thursday that a state of emergency had been approved. Earlier that day he met Venice’s mayor and emergency services before jumping in a speed boat to visit businesses and locals affected by the tide.
Residents whose houses had been hit would immediately get up to 5,000 euros in government aid, while restaurant and shop owners could receive up to 20,000 euros and apply for more later, he said.
Several museums remained closed to the public on Thursday.
As authorities assessed the extent of the damage to Venice’s cultural treasures, such as St Mark’s Basilica where water invaded the crypt, locals were defiant.
Many stopped for their usual coffees at flooded bars, drinking espresso while standing in several inches of water.
Austrian tourist Cornelia Litschauer, 28, said she felt mixed emotions seeing Venice’s famous square half-submerged.
“For the tourists it’s amazing, it’s something to see. But for the people who live here it’s a real problem,” Litschauer said, cradling her white Chihuahua Pablo.
“It’s strange. Tourists are taking pictures but the city is suffering.”
The Locanda Al Leon hotel said its bookings had suffered from the international media coverage of the flood, with some guests cancelling their rooms after seeing images of Venice underwater.
Under the arches of the Ducal Palace, a couple from Hong Kong posed for photos in the chilly morning sun. — AFP