World News

Venice floods: Warnings salt water could damage artifacts

Posted October 31, 2018 8:46 a.m. EDT

— The number of people killed in weather-related incidents in Italy has risen to 11, the country's Civil Protection agency said Wednesday, as officials in the flooded lagoon city of Venice warned that salt water may have caused significant damage to historic sites.

Much of Venice was engulfed with water on Monday after high tides and strong winds caused the worst flooding for years, transforming the vast expanse of St. Mark's Square into a lake and spilling across ancient marble floors in St. Mark's Basilica.

"In a single day, the basilica aged 20 years, but perhaps this is an optimistic consideration," Carlo Alberto Tesserin, head of the board responsible for St. Mark's Basilica, said in a statement to Italian national broadcaster Rai News.

The floodwaters covered several dozen square meters of the 1,000-year-old marble pavement in front of the altar of the Madonna Nicopeia, a 12th-century icon, and submerged the Baptistery and the Zen Chapel, he said.

Mosaic flooring near the entrance to the basilica was under as much as 90 centimeters (35 inches) of water for 16 hours, which also soaked the monumental bronze doors, columns and marbles, Tesserin said.

"The church has a structure made of bricks which, drenched in salt water, deteriorate even to a height of several meters, endangering the mosaics that adorn the vaults," he said.

As the floodwaters rose Monday, reaching 156 centimeters (61 inches) above average sea level at their peak, as much as three-quarters of Venice was submerged. Raised walkways were laid out in front of the Doge's Palace and other parts of the city.

Tourists and residents trudged through the waist-high water, while stores and restaurants were inundated as barriers placed across doorways failed to hold back the rising tide. Shopkeepers used buckets to remove water from their premises.

Tuesday's high tides peaked at 110 centimeters, a level that would inundate at least 12% of the city. On Wednesday city authorities were expecting 90 centimeters maximum, with a peak of 110 centimeters forecast again on Thursday. Floods of at least 110 centimeters usually happen only about four times a year.

Monday's high tides were caused by a low-pressure weather system over northern Italy that brought strong winds from south to north, pushing water into Venice.

Flooding at high tide has become much more common in Venice because of climate change -- a problem that will continue to worsen as seas rise due to increasing temperatures and melting ice sheets.

Other parts of Italy have also been affected by high winds, heavy rainfall and violent storms this week.

An Albanian fisherman died in the Trentino-Alto Adige region after strong winds blew him into the water as he tried to secure his boat on Lake Levico, the Civil Protection Agency said Wednesday.

Two young people died south of Rome when a tree hit their car, while another person was killed in the nearby town of Terracina as winds brought down scores of pine trees.

Among the other victims was a 21-year-old man who was hit by a falling tree while walking in Naples, and a woman who died after being struck by debris blown off a building in the northern region of Liguria.

A volunteer firefighter who was helping with the emergency response in San Martino in Badia in the country's north is also reported to have died.