Rush to protect manuscripts and art treasures as new tidal surge hits Venice

High tide in Venice peaked at five feet above sea level which prompted the mayor to close St Mark's Square. Picture: Getty
High tide in Venice peaked at five feet above sea level which prompted the mayor to close St Mark's Square. Picture: Getty
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In a city famously built in a lagoon, residents are used to dealing with flooding. But even by Venice’s standards water has been everywhere it should not be this week.

Exceptionally high tidal waters have surged again yesterday, prompting the mayor to close St Mark’s Square and call for more donations for repairs just three days after the Italian city suffered its worst flooding in 50 years.

The high tide peaked at five feet above sea level just before noon, flooding most of the historic World Heritage city’s centre.

Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the damage is estimated at hundreds of millions of euros and blamed climate change for the “dramatic situation”.

He also called for the speedy completion of the city’s long-delayed Moses flood defence project.

Mr Brugnaro said he was forced to ask police to block off St Mark’s Square, which was covered in knee-high water. Workers in high boots removed the platforms used by the public to cross the famous square without getting wet.

Venice saw its second-worst flooding on record on Tuesday when water levels reached more than six feet above sea level.

That prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency on Thursday, approving €20 million to help Venice repair the most urgent damage.

“Venice is the pride of all of Italy,” Mr Brugnaro said. “Venice is everyone’s heritage, unique in the world. Thanks to your help, Venice will shine again.”

Venice, a lagoon city built amid a system of canals, is particularly vulnerable to a combination of rising sea levels due to climate change coupled with the city’s well-documented sinking into the 
mud.

The sea level in Venice is four inches higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the city’s tide office.

More than 50 churches have reported damage from the tides.

Carabinieri officers from the corps’ world-renowned and highly trained squad of art experts were being deployed to map damage to art treasures, a job that is expected to take some time.

The Italian Space Agency said it was studying radar data from satellites to detect any signs that bell towers may have shifted or that their foundations might have weakened as they were buffeted by the fast-rising waters.

Many people were rising to the challenge of saving Venice’s many treasures.

University students in Venice rushed to libraries and other institutions filled with books and manuscripts to help shift the material to higher 
levels.

The Italian Society of Authors and Editors, which said Venice’s book stores and libraries were “gravely damaged” by the high water, launched a fundraising campaign. Pitching for donations from Italy and abroad, the group said it was important to “take the side of those who every day are on the front lines for the defence of Italian culture”.