Venetians woke Wednesday to devastating scenes after the highest tide in 50 years washed through the historic Italian city, beaching gondolas, trashing hotels and sending tourists fleeing through rapidly rising waters.
Shopkeepers on the Grand Canal raged against those who have failed to protect the UNESCO city from the high tide, blaming corruption for the much-delayed barrier protection system which could have prevented the disaster.
‘The city is on its knees,’ Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro said in an interview with national broadcaster RAI.
‘There’s widespread devastation,’ he said in the famed St. Mark’s Square, which bore the brunt of the flooding.
Tourists lugging heavy suitcases waded in thigh-high galoshes or barefoot through the submerged alleys, as water taxi and gondola drivers baled sewage-tainted water out of their trashed vessels.
The exceptionally intense ‘acqua alta,’ or high waters, peaked at 1.87 metres. Only once since records began in 1923 has the water crept even higher, reaching 1.94 metres in 1966.
Around 150 fire fighters were deployed to rescue people stranded on jetties and to recover boats broken free from their moorings.
A 78-year old was killed by electric shock as the waters poured into his home, Italian media reported.
President of the Veneto region Luca Zaia said 80 per cent of the city had been submerged, causing ‘unimaginable damage’.
German tourist Gabi Brueckner, 58, said the night-time drama had been ‘horrifying’.
She echoed the mayor in blaming climate change and said she feared like many people that ‘it will get worse and at some point Venice will drown’.
A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been underway since 2003 to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, corruptio n scandals and delays.
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