By: Richard Owen
Venice: Sirens sounded across Venice yesterday as flooding submerged 95 per cent of the city and left tourists in St Mark’s Square thigh-deep in water.
The highest water levels in more than 20 years paralyzed services. Elderly residents were carried to high ground and some people took to the piazzas in inflatable dinghies.
As the water retreated it left a layer of sludge and debris. There were fears of more flooding, with another surge into the city from the Adriatic predicted today as high tides coincide with bad weather. Temperatures in the past few days have barely risen above freezing.
“Venice is completely paralysed,” one official said. “We are submerged.” Massimo Cacciari, the Mayor of Venice, advised residents and tourists to avoid moving around unless it was unavoidable. “Anyone thinking of coming should think again,” he said. “These are exceptionally high waters. Don’t venture out unless it is necessary.”
Times Archive, 1966: Dyke breaches flood Adriatic islands
Venice is like a gigantic boat half sunken. Last night it was submerged again by the tide
Driven by strong winds and heavy rain, the water rose to just over 5ft above sea level, the highest acqua alta since the 5ft 2in (1.6m) of 1986. The tide monitoring centre gave warning that the levels could yet reach a 30-year high. The water reached 6ft 4in ( 1.92m) above sea level in 1966, causing devastation to homes, shops and historic monuments and artworks.
Workers set up duckboards and elevated walkways, and text messages with updates were sent to those who had registered with the flood warning service. Ground-floor pumps were activated in homes and shops.
Officials said that the red alert put out yesterday at dawn remained in force. With wellington boots defeated by the rising waters some residents used fishing-style waders. Householders without pumps struggled to bail out water with buckets.
Some tourists were seen photographing each other while wading through the flooded streets and piazzas. Many said that they had been charmed by the water wonderland. “The hotel had to turn off the gas and the electricity but they made us a nice candlelit cold lunch,” said Yacob Laurent, a visitor from Paris. “They gave us boots and my wife and I went for a walk. It was a lot of fun.”
The flooding was compounded by a national transport strike, which affected the Venice vaporetto or water bus service. Giancarlo Galan, the head of the Veneto region, said that the workers had chosen a bad time to strike. “I’d like to give them a medal for their sense of responsibility,” he said sarcastically.
The entire city, founded on a collection of marshy islands in the 5th century, suffers from periodic flooding. The growing severity and frequency of the floods is attributed to silt deposits raising the floor of the lagoon and a rise in sea levels caused by global warming.
Italian meteorologists said that the entire country was being affected by bad weather, with driving rain, snow, hail and high winds causing flooding from the Alps to Palermo. Many roads in Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy were closed and Rome was hit by hail and rainstorms, with fallen trees blocking roads and cars submerged in flooded road tunnels.
In Udine, not far from Venice, one man was killed when a wall collapsed. Another died when driving rain, wind and poor visibility were blamed for a traffic pile-up. Residents of Trieste said the main square had been flooded.
Photo: Tourists wade through flood waters in Venice December 1, 2008. Large parts of Venice were flooded as heavy rains and strong winds lashed the lagoon city, with sea levels at their highest level in 22 years. Ferry and water taxi services in the city were suspended and Venice's mayor urged people to stay indoors. Tourists and residents struggled to get across the city over raised walkways.
Tags: Italy, source: Times on line, Travel, Ya Libnan