Floods in Venice: Salt may have damaged historic sites

A large part of Venice was flooded with water on Monday after heavy tides and strong winds that caused the worst floods for years, turning the vast expanse of St. Mark's Square into a lake and crossing ancient marble floors at St. Mark's Basilica.

"In one day, the 20-year-old basil, but perhaps an optimistic view," Carlo Alberto Tesserin, head of the St. Mark's Basil's Board, said in a statement.

The flood waters covered several tens of square meters of the 1,000-year-old marble pavement in front of the altar of Our Lady of Nicosia, a 12th-century picture immersed in the Baptistery and Zen Castle, he said.

The mosaic floors near the entrance of the basilica were under 90 centimeters of water for 16 hours, which also hit the monumental copper doors, columns and marbles, Tesserin said.

"The church has a brick structure which, moistened with sea water, is even worse at a height of a few meters, endangering the mosaics that adorn the domes," he said.

A man brushes the floodwater outside the historic Caffe Florian in St. Mark's Square on Tuesday.

As floodwaters rose on Monday, reaching 156 inches (61 inches) above the average sea level at their peak, up to three quarters of Venice sank. Pedestrian corridors extend in front of the Dogmas Palace and other parts of the city.

Tourists and residents were sinking through the waist, while shops and restaurants flooded as obstacles on the doors failed to contain the growing tide. The shopkeepers used bins to remove water from their premises.

The flood waters in Venice reached 156 centimeters above the average sea level at the top.
Local police began cleaning people from St. Mark's Square on Monday because of the floods.

The big tides on Tuesday were 110 centimeters, a level that would hit at least 12 per cent of the city. On Wednesday, the city authorities expect a maximum of 90 centimeters, with a forecast of 110 centimeters for Thursday. Floods of at least 110 cm usually occur only four times a year. The highest recorded was 194 centimeters in November 1966.

"Everything is under control, as was the case last Friday," CNN spokeswoman Benito Brianaro said on Wednesday.

"Thanks to the preventive measures we have taken, the city is ok, as the city may be under these conditions." Governor of the region, Lucas Zaia, said that these conditions are similar to those that occurred in 1966. "

Flood barrier program incomplete

This week's floods were caused by a seasonal flow and a strong low-pressure system in southern Europe that brought strong winds from the south and pushed the water into the Adriatic Sea in Venice. This is the peak season of the year for the seasonal floods known as acqua alta, or with water, in the city.

The floods in the tide have become much more common in Venice due to climate change – a problem that will continue to deteriorate as seas rise due to rising temperatures and melting ice sheets, according to CNN meteorologists.
Satellite observations show sea level rising and climate change accelerates
Work on installing innovative underwater flood dams to protect Venice from serious flooding, known as the Moses project, has begun for years. However, it has not yet been completed, partly because of corruption and rising costs.

A representative of the Civil Protection Agency in Venice told CNN that the Moses system could mitigate the effects of seawater on historical sights of the city.

"Of course, if the work of Moses was completed, the damage we see now would not have happened," he said, "but the project was not completed due to the high cost."

The representative of the mayor's office asked for the completion of the project. "The work of Moses is important to the Venetians," he said. "This infrastructure must be completed to avoid extraordinary waters, as happened on Monday."

A spokesman for the New Venice Consortium, who is in charge of the Moses system, told CNN: "Work on Moses began in 2003. At this time 92-93% is over."

Venice also has a tidal monitoring and warning system for high water levels.

A car is crushed under a fallen tree after being hit by strong winds in Rome on Monday.

Storm damage

Other parts of northern Italy have also been affected by strong winds, intense rainfall and violent storms this week.

The regions of Liguria, Veneto, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia were the most intense, according to the Civil Protection Service.

The popular city of Portofino, on the coast of Liguria, has remained isolated as the road connecting it to the nearby town of Rapallo has been destroyed, Jacopo Riccamboni of the Rapallo press office at CNN said.

A vessel belonging to the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which anchors in Rapallo, was also damaged, he said. "We had a kind of tsunami, eight meters waves. I have never seen anything like this here," he said.

"The boats here hit the rocks near the harbor, making the boats tip, pouring tables and the contents of the boat on the beach."

Rescuers also worked on Wednesday to evacuate more than 190 people hit by heavy snow in Pass Stelvio in South Tyrol, the Civil Protection Service said.

An Albanian fisherman died in the Trentino-Alto Adie region, as strong winds slaughtered him in the water as he tried to secure his boat in Lake Lecco, the service said on Wednesday.

Children play on Tuesday in a puddle from the ancient Colosseum in Rome, one day after strong winds and rain struck the city.

Two young people died south of Rome when a tree struck their car while another man was killed in the nearby town of Terracina as the winds poured under the pine trees.

Among the other victims was a 21-year-old man struck by a tree fall while walking in Naples and a woman who died after being hit by the debris expelled from a building in the northern Ligurian region.

A volunteer firefighter, who helped deal with an emergency in San Martino in Badia in the northern part of the country, was also reported to have died.

Valentina DiDonato of CNN reported from Rome and Gianluca Mezzofiore from London and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Judson Jones contributed to this report.