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The Worst Flood In More Than 50 Years Has Submerged Venice


The worst flood in more than 50 years has submerged Venice, the historic Italian city built on a lagoon. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the city's mayor says Venice is on its knees.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Images on social media show streets turned into surging torrents, gondolas stripped from their moorings and boats smashed against marble piers. The few people out and about wear thigh-high rubber boots. University student Anna Vianello was going home at 7 p.m.

ANNA VIANELLO: And I could see some water coming from the sea with my classmates. We said, oh, it's coming. And so we went quickly home.

POGGIOLI: The high-water mark hit 6 feet, 2 inches late Tuesday - only two inches less than the highest recorded measurement in 1966.

VIANELLO: It was, like, 11 in the evening, and I could see from my window people walking. And they had water up to their knees. And all the windows were shaking because of the wind.

POGGIOLI: Northern Italy has been hit by a sudden surge of bad weather with driving rains and winds blowing at 60 miles per hour. One death was reported on the barrier island Pellestrina. A man was electrocuted when he started to pump in his home. Built centuries ago on tiny islands, the city of grand palaces and monumental churches has always been subject to flooding, known here as acqua alta - high water. But rising sea levels are seriously endangering the jewel of the Adriatic. An ambitious project of movable undersea barriers called Moses is as yet unfinished due to cost overruns and corruption scandals. Experts say even when completed, it will be insufficient to deal with rising sea levels. One of the most vulnerable parts of the city is the lowest, St. Mark's Square, once described by Napoleon as Europe's drawing room. University student Vianello went there this afternoon.

VIANELLO: And I had water up to my ankle. And it's quite bad because usually, in the afternoon, there shouldn't be water anywhere. It's like the safe part of the day, usually.

POGGIOLI: Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro called the flooding apocalyptic, and he blamed climate change. He said St. Mark's Basilica, renowned for its frescoes in mosaic pavement, sustained serious damage, like the entire city and its islands.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.