By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Italy’s government declared a state of emergency for Venice on Thursday as water levels continue high after Tuesday’s flood which inundated 85 percent of the historic town. Damage costs are estimated at hundreds of millions of euros.
“The disaster that hit Venice is a blow to the heart of our country. The damaged city, the compromised artistic heritage, the business activities (were brought to) their knees,” wrote Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, on his social media account about Tuesday’s flood.
An extreme high tide inundated most of Venice, leaving parts of the city under six feet of water, the highest recorded since 1966, say officials. Floodwaters pushed boats ashore and swept through buildings, including the City Council building where officials were discussing the 2020 budget.
“Ironically, the (council) chamber was flooded two minutes after the Majority League, Brothers of Italy, and Forza Italia parties rejected amendments to counter climate change,” said Andreas Zanzoni, a Venetian council member on his Facebook page.
Residents and officials alike criticize the slowness in finishing the MOSE project, a system of retractable dikes which would keep sea levels from flooding the region.
The city is said to have invested more than $6 billion euros in the project, which started in 2003 and was scheduled to be ready in 2011. Due to a series of corruption scandals the levies are now expected to be operational only at the end of 2021. In 2014, former mayor Giorgio Orsoni resigned and was later arrested, accused of embezzling millions of dollars in funds meant for the flood barriers.
“These are the effects of climate change. The MOSE must be finished soon,” urged current Venice Mayor, Luigi Brugnaro in his Twitter account.
Venice, made up of more than 100 islands within a lagoon, has been called a floating city. Due to shifting tectonic plates, however, and water pumped out of the ground for industrial use, Venice has sunk almost five inches between 1950 and 1970, and it continues to sink one-fifth of an inch per year, making it very vulnerable to sea level rise.
On Thursday, the Italian government approved a state of emergency decree for Venice and other parts of Veneto, earmarking 20 million euros to help the region combat climate change and sea level rise.