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Venice declares emergency amid historic flood levels

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Venice declares emergency amid historic flood levels
Italian League Party leader Matteo Salvini and Veneto Governor Luca Zaia walk in floodwaters in Venice on Friday. Photo by Andrea Merola/EPA-EFE

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared a national state of emergency after flood levels in Venice reached six feet above sea level, its highest level in more than 50 years.

Conte said he will approve a decree to secure financial aid for Venice to help the city recover and restore services.

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Two deaths have been reported on the barrier island of Pellestrina, including a man in his 70s who was electrocuted while trying to turn on a water pump in his home.

"The disaster that hit Venice is a blow to the heart of our country," Conte said. "It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, it's business activities on its knees."

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The flooding was caused by a full moon combined with southerly winds that pushed the high tide to new heights.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro blamed global warming for the rising water levels, which flooded the Veneto regional council chambers on Venice's Grand Canal during a meeting this week -- incidentally, just after it rejected a measure to address climate change.

"Ironically, the chamber was flooded two minutes after the majority League, Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia parties rejected our amendment to tackle climate change," Democratic Party councilor Andrea Zanoni wrote on Facebook.

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The amendments would have replaced diesel buses in Venice with more efficient vehicles.

Council President Roberto Ciambetti said the city spent millions on prevention measures after a major flood in 2010.

"Never had such a situation occurred here [at the Council]," he said. "The flood-proof bulkheads were not sufficient to contain the flood wave, nor was it possible to leave the building."

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Council meetings set for Thursday and Friday were relocated to Treviso due to the flooding.

St. Mark's Basilica was also flooded, including its crypt below the cathedral. There was also damage at the Ca' Pesaro art gallery, where water caused a short circuit that started a fire. At the La Fenice Theater, authorities shut off electricity after its control room flooded.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said no damage was done to art collections, but many sites remained closed to tourists.

Some Italian officials said the flooding shows a need for a long-delayed project to build offshore barriers to prevent flooding throughout the European Union. The project has been planned for years but has run into environmental opposition, cost overruns and corruption scandals.

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