VENICE: Much of Venice was left under water after the highest tide in 50 years ripped through the historic Italian city, beaching gondolas, trashing hotels and sending tourists fleeing through rapidly rising waters.
The government in Rome was expected to declare a state of emergency at a cabinet meeting on Thursday after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the flooding as "a blow to the heart of our country."
Officials blamed climate change while shopkeepers on the Grand Canal raged against those who have failed to protect the UNESCO city from the high tide.
They said corruption had repeatedly delayed a barrier protection system that could have prevented the disaster.
The city is on its knees," Venice 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. "In all likelihood the damage from last night runs into hundreds of millions of euros."
The state of emergency for a natural disaster will allow the government to use "exceptional powers and means" to intervene more quickly, and Conte said his government was ready to allocate funds.
We’ve never seen anything like it," said Alvise, 19.
Earlier, tourists lugging heavy suitcases waded in thigh-high boots or barefoot through the submerged alleys, as gondola and water taxi drivers baled sewage-tainted water out of their trashed vessels.
Schools would stay closed on Thursday, authorities said.
Dirty water was swirling around the marble tombs inside the 12th-century crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, which suffered untold damage when an unprecedented high tide swept through the city.
It was closed to tourists as were many other Venice highlights including the Fenice Theatre and the Ducal Palace.
A 78-year old was killed by an electric shock as the waters poured into his home.
Environment Minister Sergio Costa blamed climate change and the "tropicalization" of violent rainfall and strong winds.
The exceptionally intense "acqua alta," or high waters, peaked at 1.87 meters (six feet). Only once since records began in 1923 has the water crept even higher, reaching 1.94 meters in 1966.
President of the Veneto region Luca Zaia said 80 percent of the city had been submerged, causing "unimaginable damage" to the city, which has 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.
Outside historic Venice, the Lido and Pellestrina islands were also hard hit by flooding.
Source: Kazinform News Agency
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