Tourists asked to stay away as Venice inundated by floods


FLOODING IN Venice yesterday prompted city mayor Massimo Cacciari to invite tourists and travellers to stay away "unless it is absolutely necessary".

Heavy rain and winds of up to 70km/h in the Adriatic saw Venice hit by the highest aqua alta(or flood water) of the last 20 years.

Venetians woke to the sound of sirens at 5.30am yesterday, warning them that exceptionally heavy flooding might be expected. Although the famous lagoon city suffers some level of flooding two days out of every three, yesterday's level of 1.56m of flood water initially prompted major concern for public safety.

By the end of the day, as the flood waters subsided, Mr Cacciari was striking a more reassuring tone, saying he would not be requesting that the government declare a state of emergency: "This was exceptional flooding, the fourth worst of the last century. Although it has done a lot of damage, which we will quantify over the coming days, no one has been killed or injured and no building has collapsed. It would require things like that to justify the state of emergency."

Among those buildings damaged yesterday were many ground-floor shops and cellars as well as the crypt of the Basilica di San Marco, with approximately 95 per cent of the "historic centre" under water. Venetians were advised to stay at home while those tourists and others who did venture out found themselves wading through waist-deep waters.

Infrastructure and transport minister Altiero Matteoli claimed that yesterday's flooding provided further proof, if that were needed, of the urgent necessity to complete the infamous, currently ongoing, -"Mose" dam project in Venice, intended to protect the city in just such conditions.

Initiated in 2003 and scheduled for completion in 2012, the project, which will cost at least €4.2 million, may not however be the answer to all Venice's flood problems. It will be able to handle up to 1.1m of flooding, more than a half metre less than yesterday's 1.56m.