Venice businesses and residents say they feel helpless as they prepare for the upcoming high tides.
As tourists posed for selfies in St. Mark's Square Wednesday night, shop owners cleaned the floors of their stores and cleaned up debris while assessing the cost of damage from record high tides.
"An apocalypse happened," said Antonella Rossi, who owns a handmade jewelry store under the portico that surrounds the square.
“We haven't seen anything like this in 55 years. The water has destroyed everything, and I will have to redo a lot: the work that took a lifetime was destroyed in seconds ”.
After the worst flooding since the 1960s, St. Mark's Square was submerged by more than a meter of water on Wednesday and the adjacent St. Mark's Basilica was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years, but the fourth in the last two. decades.
Simone Travagin, who runs a shop that sells traditional Venetian masks, estimated that around € 40,000 (£ 34,000) worth of merchandise had been destroyed. "I'll have to throw it all away," he said.
Venice leaders spoke of "great devastation" in museums, monuments and homes after flood levels reached 1.87 meters Tuesday night amid heavy rain, just shy of the record of 1.94 meters measured. in 1966.
Another deluge engulfed the city Wednesday morning, causing the high water, or high seas, to reach 1.60 meters. Most of the water had receded by afternoon, but residents are bracing for more to come as forecasts foretold 1.20 meter high tides.
"We feel powerless over nature, but we are also disappointed that politics or technology has failed," said Claudio Vernier, president of the St. Mark's Square Merchants Association. "They have been talking about defending this city for decades, but that's all they do: talk."
The city's schools and museums closed Wednesday, as did St. Mark's Basilica. The last time water filled the 1,000-year-old cathedral was in November 2018, with the cost of repairing its marble floors and bronze metal doors estimated at € 2.2 million.
"Think of it this way: every time there is a flood, the damage is done and it takes time to heal," said Marco Piana, administrator of St. Mark's Basilica. "Then a subsequent flood occurs and the healing process is interrupted, so the initial damage done is never fully recovered."
The city's opera, the Teatro La Fenice, was also damaged.
Venice asks for international help for the worst floods in its history.- Miguel Ángel 🔻 (@mavarosg) November 13, 2019
Climate change is a fact and we are already paying the consequences… 😔😔😔 # Venice pic.twitter.com/oMMmbf11it
Piana flatly blamed the authorities' failure to complete the € 6 billion Mose project, designed in 1984 to protect Venice from high tides but is not yet operational. Work began in 2003 but has been plagued by delays and a myriad of problems, including a corruption scandal that emerged in 2014. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro promised on Wednesday that the flood barrier would be completed.
As part of the project, an artificial island was built between the Lido of Venice and Cavallino-Treporti to separate two rows of barrier gates and house the main technical buildings for the operation of the gates.
"The Mose project has been an epic failure," said Marco Gasparinetti, who leads activists from the city's Gruppo Aprile 25. “The artificial island has completely changed the lagoon and has accelerated the speed of entry of seawater. In fact, the lagoon is no longer a lagoon, the type of waves we had yesterday is the type that is obtained in the open sea ”.
Tourists, who earlier in the day had been wading through thigh-high water, appeared to ignore the destruction as they enjoyed dinner at the restaurants that remained open in the vicinity of St. Mark's Square.
But the city and its inhabitants will take a long time to recover.
"People are very sad, disappointed and desperate," said Elena Riu, whose house on the ground floor was completely flooded.
“Of course, this is an exceptional event, but the problem is not unusual for Venice, and with the effects of climate change, there will be more flooding. For more than 30 years they have been talking about solutions to keep Venice safe, but it is just blah blah blah.