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Fundraisers, volunteers mobilised to save Venice’s works of art

On Friday, the tide peaked at 1.54 metres forcing the closure of Piazza San Marco to the public and flooding most of the lagoon city’s already devastated centre before easing.

Workers clean up after high waters flooded the interior of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice.

Workers clean up after high waters flooded the interior of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.Credit:ANSA/AP

Forecasters warned that the danger for more wind-propelled high tides remained through the weekend.

A senior port authority official wrote to major cruise ship companies to for donations. Massive cruise liners disgorge thousands of day-trippers into Venice on a near-daily basis.

Built on a series of tiny islets amid a system of canals, the city is particularly vulnerable to a combination of rising sea levels due to climate change and the city’s well-documented sinking into the mud. The sea level in Venice is 10 centimetres higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the city’s tide office.

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More than 50 churches have reported damage from the tides, Franceschini said as he inspected the city. Police 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.

“While the water is still there, it’s difficult to know what the [full] damage is,” Franceschini said.

The minister called on politicians of all stripes to quickly approve extending tax breaks for those who donate to help restore state monuments and artworks and also for those who contribute for Venice’s damaged churches.

At the government’s request, the Italian Space Agency was gathering radar data from satellites to detect any signs that the city’s bell towers may have shifted or that their foundations might have weakened after being buffeted countless times over the centuries by fast-rising waters.

Young volunteers help the clean up, throwing out damaged books from renowned bookstore "Acqua Alta" in Venice.

Young volunteers help the clean up, throwing out damaged books from renowned bookstore “Acqua Alta” in Venice.Credit:AP

On Thursday, the government declared a state of emergency, approving €20 million to help repair the most urgent damage.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has estimated damage at hundreds of millions of euros and blamed climate change for the city’s plight.

He also called for the speedy completion of the city’s long-delayed Moses flood defence project. Moses consists of a series of movable barriers in the lagoon that can be raised when high winds and high tides combine to threaten to send “acqua alta”, as the high tide is known, rushing across the city.

Completion of the multibillion-euro project, under construction since 2003, has been delayed by corruption scandals, cost overruns and opposition from environmentalists who were worried about its effects on Venice’s delicate lagoon ecosystem.

The Veneto regional council chambers in the Palazzo Ferro Fini, Venice, flooded while legislators discussed climate change.

The Veneto regional council chambers in the Palazzo Ferro Fini, Venice, flooded while legislators discussed climate change.Credit:AP

Opposition politicians in the Veneto Region, which has Venice as its capital, noted wryly that the local centre-right majority had just voted against an amendment to fund efforts aimed at dealing with climate change when the regional assembly hall was flooded on Tuesday night, forcing politicians to flee.

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University students in Venice rushed to libraries and other institutions filled with books and manuscripts to help shift the material to higher stories. Improvising, at least one volunteer used a hair dryer to dry a valued volume, page by page.

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.”

San Marco square remains covered in flood water days after the second highest tide since 1966.

San Marco square remains covered in flood water days after the second highest tide since 1966.Credit:Getty Images

It said one Venice bookstore, poignantly named Acqua Alta, had been completely submerged by the rushing water.

La Fenice opera theatre was left unusable by the flooding. Milan’s opera theatre, La Scala, said it would mount a special ballet on November 29 to raise funds for La Fenice.

AP

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