At least two people died and severe damages were registered in Italy’s lagoon city of Venice, following the highest water tide since 1960s, local authorities said on Wednesday.
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro filed a request of state of emergency to the Veneto region to which the city belongs, explaining on Twitter that the city was “on its knees.”
“The Saint Mark’s basilica has suffered serious damages, along with the whole city and its islands,” he wrote.
A first peak was registered at 10:50 p.m. local time on Tuesday, when water reached 1.87 meters, according to Venice’s Tide Forecast and Monitoring Center.
It was the highest level since 1966, when the tide reached 1.94 meters.
In the island of Pellestrina, a 78-year-old man was electrocuted at his home by a short circuit brought about by the flood and found in the early hours of Wednesday, according to Carabinieri police.
A second person was reported dead Wednesday, although it was not yet confirmed the cause of death was directly related to this emergency.
The city remained underwater throughout the day, and the mayor ordered schools to stay shut on Thursday, after being closed for security reasons on Wednesday.
A city council scheduled for Thursday was cancelled for the same reasons.
Venice’s major opera house La Fenice would also remain shut during the emergency, while a blaze broke out at Ca’ Pesaro Int’l Gallery of Modern Art because of electrical problems.
Most of the shops, business activities, and homes at floor level in the city’s historic center went underwater, and the same occurred to Saint Mark’s basilica crypt, the mayor said in an interview to state-run RAI 3 TV.
Ansa news agency cited the basilica’s prosecutor, Pierpaolo Campostrini, as saying the situation in Saint Mark came “only an hair’s breadth from disaster.”
“The water entered the basilica and flooded the floor, breaking the windows into the crypt… This was dangerous, because water could have caused static problems to the columns supporting the basilica,” Campostrini explained.
According to the alert by the monitoring center, the tide would reach a second peak of 1.2 meters at 11:35 p.m. on Wednesday, and would remain at high level up to Nov. 16.
At a press conference in the morning, the mayor appealed for the whole country to mobilize, together with Venetians, in order to provide a long-term solution for the ancient and fragile lagoon city.
“This emergency could be a historic chance to solve our problems, if we play as a team… If Venice dies, the whole country dies,” Brugnaro stressed.