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Flooding Damages St. Mark's Basilica In Venice


Apocalyptic devastation - that's how a local Italian governor described Venice, as the highest tide in 50 years flooded the city of canals. St. Mark's Basilica, the city's most recognizable and most visited and most loved church, is also one of the city's hardest-hit sites. Its square this past week was more pool than plaza, and the flooding may have caused hundreds of millions of euros' worth of damage.

We're joined now by Pierpaolo Campostrini. He sits on the procuratorial of St. Mark, the board that helps manage and protect the church. Welcome.

PIERPAOLO CAMPOSTRINI: Thank you very much for calling me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me the condition the church is in now.

CAMPOSTRINI: We cleaned up all the flooded pavements. We take out the water from the crypt. However, the salt is acting behind the marble, and the salt stay inside. So the water go out, but the salt stay inside. And the crystallization of salt breaks the brick, and also, it can pass through the marble. So deterioration is progressive.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what I'm understanding is that, if I was a tourist and I went, it would look nice, but that the salt is really corrosive. How do you protect from that? What is the next step, since this has been cumulative?

CAMPOSTRINI: I mean, there are a few things that we can do for the bricks. When they are too salty, we have simply to substitute them for the marble. We put the marble inside of these pools of fresh water, and we cleaned it with a repetitive cycle of fresh water.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Local politicians there have blamed this latest cycle of severe flooding on climate change. We know that Venice has been subject to this for a very long time but that it will only get worse. What is being done to protect the church and other important places? I mean, this church has been there since 1100.

CAMPOSTRINI: The idea is to build a barrier on the island which separates the sea from the lagoon. It is a huge project because this project cost more than 6 billion euro but has not been completed. That's been completed till the 90%, but if it is not completely 100%, simply, it doesn't work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many people say that this project has been delayed because of mismanagement, corruption, and that there's a lot of anger over that. I mean, is it something that you're concerned about?

CAMPOSTRINI: It might be. Yes, of course, there have been also some corruption. But now, since five years when the court discovered this corruption, there are more lawyers working than engineers, and this is bad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is indeed. What are people there saying? How are they feeling as the floodwaters keep coming?

CAMPOSTRINI: People presently are shock because this flooding was not expected. I saw people crying because they lost their refrigerator where the gelato is sold. But there's also a little angry against the politicians which allow these things to happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What happens if the basilica is hopelessly inundated? Have you discussed moving some of the art, the holy relics away from Venice?

CAMPOSTRINI: No. We have to work for defending Venice in Venice. We have an idea that a barrier can be built around the basilica in order not to allow the water to come in. The basilica is there more than that 90 - 50 years, and I believe that it must be there for many years to come.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just finally, I'd like to know just your personal feelings for something that you're vowing to protect to see what's happening.

CAMPOSTRINI: At the beginning, I was very, very sad because it is difficult to see the kind of pressure that is occurring to the basilica, this old lady, over 900 years. This is something that, if you would be there, you should have cried with me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Pierpaolo Campostrini of the procuratorial of St. Mark. Thank you very much.

CAMPOSTRINI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.