Two people have died as the highest water levels for more than 50 years caused hundreds of millions of euros of possibly irreparable damage in Venice, officials have said, with another surge expected to cause further flooding.
Flood levels in the lagoon city reached the second-highest level since records began in 1923 as a result of the acqua alta, which hit 1.87 metres (74in) late on Tuesday night amid heavy rain, just short of the record 1.94 metres measured in 1966.
Another deluge engulfed the city on Wednesday morning, causing the acqua alta, or high water, to reach 1.60 metres. Most of the water had receded by the afternoon, but residents are bracing themselves for more to come as forecasts predicted high tides of 1.20 metres late on Wednesday night and 1.30 metres on Thursday morning.
An elderly local man from Pellestrina, one of the many islands in the Venetian lagoon, died when he was struck by lightning while using an electric water pump, the fire brigade said. The body of another man was found in his home.
Italy’s minister of culture, Dario Franceschini, said the government would provide an as-yet unspecified amount of funding to help preserve the Unesco world heritage site.
Venice sits on thousands of wooden piles driven into the mud, but rising sea levels and heavy cruise ship traffic have steadily eaten away at the surrounding marshes and mudbanks, causing the city to gradually sink.
St Mark’s Square was submerged by more than one metre of water, while the adjacent basilica was flooded for only the sixth time in 1,200 years – but the fourth in the last two decades. The last occasion, in November 2018, caused an estimated €2.2m (£1.9m) of damage.
The head of the Venice hotels association said the damage was enormous, with many hotels losing electricity and lacking pumps to remove water. Tourists with ground floor rooms had to be evacuated to higher floors as the waters rose on Tuesday night, Claudio Scarpa told the Ansa press agency.
Further bad weather is forecast for the coming days.