The Italian government will declare a state of emergency in Venice after severe flooding this week saw water levels reach their highest level in more than 50 years, inflicting damage on the city’s historic basilica and resulting in several deaths.
Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, said the government would hold a cabinet meeting on Thursday where emergency measures would be taken to provide extra funds to the city — a largely man-made island and Unesco world heritage site. The government would also address longstanding delays in building adequate barriers and hydraulic systems to protect the city from rising water levels.
“The disaster that struck Venice is a blow to the heart of our country. It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its commercial activities on their knees,” Mr Conte said.
The prime minister visited sites including St Mark’s Square, which had flooded by more than a metre. Water also streamed into the square’s famous cathedral and caused damage to shops, homes — many of which lost power — and hotels. More than 80 per cent of the lagoon city was under water when tides reached their highest point.
Mr Conte said the government would speed up the completion of the so-called Mose system of water defences, though he added that it was not expected to be operational before 2021.
The project has been hampered by delays and a corruption scandal, which in 2014 saw a former mayor stand down after being accused of misappropriating funds intended for its construction, since work began in 2003.
Local authorities have deployed pumps to drain water from the St Mark’s basilica, where waters this week reached their highest levels since official city records began in 1923. The crypt was flooded, and authorities are assessing possible structural damage to its columns.
The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, blamed the damage on climate change, and called on the Italian government to act to help the city after it had suffered what he described as permanent damage from the flooding. He said costs to repair it could amount to hundreds of millions of euros.
Luca Zaia, governor of the surrounding Veneto region, said the flooding had resulted in “apocalyptic devastation”.
Venice is one of Italy’s most visited tourist destinations, and local governments have raised the prospect of introducing a tourist tax to help raise revenues for the city.