by Franck IOVENE
ROME, Italy (AFP) — Powerful rainstorms hit Italy on Tuesday, with the worst affected areas in the south and Venice, where there was widespread flooding.
The heavy rainfall closed schools in several southern cities including Taranto, Brindisi, and Matera, as well as the Sicilian cities of Pozzallo and Noto, according to the national weather service.
In Matera, this year’s European Capital of Culture, a tornado caused trees and lamp posts to fall, damaging numerous roofs and buildings. No injuries were reported.
Strong precipitation was seen all along the western coast of the country from Tuscany to the southern region of Campania, including the northeast of Sardinia.
In Venice, the famous St. Mark’s Square was submerged due to the exceptionally intense “acqua alta,” or high waters, which were expected to exceed 4.5 feet (1.4 meters).
The square is particularly affected by the high tides, as it is located in one of the lowest parts of the city.
The vestibule of the basilica was also inundated with water, and authorities planned to watch the building overnight.
Pierpaolo Campostrini, a member of St. Mark’s council, said the scale of the flooding on Tuesday had only been seen five times in the long history of the basilica, where construction began in 828 and which was rebuilt after a fire in 1063.
Most worryingly, Campostrini said, three of those five episodes occurred in the last 20 years, most recently in 2018.
The highest tide recorded in Venice was in 1966 when the water reached 6.3 feet.
The city sits between 3-4 feet.
Since 2003, a massive infrastructure project has been underway to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, scandals, and delays.
The plan calls for the construction of 78 floating gates to protect Venice’s lagoon during high tides.
© Agence France-Presse