St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy during a previous flood in 2014 (photo by Chris via Flickrstream)

Two people died in Venice, Italy in the worst floods to befall the city in more than 5o years. Local authorities called on the Italian government to declare a state of emergency, and since, the Venice Biennale and other art institutions in the city have closed to visitors.

Flood levels reached record-high levels (74 inches) Tuesday night, November 12, when heavy rains hit the lagoon city and caused surging tides. More than 85% of the city is currently flooded, including the historic St. Mark’s Basilica and its adjacent square at the center of the city. According to Italian authorities, this is the worst flooding in Venice since 1966, when floodwaters reached 76.4 inches high.

According to reports, an elderly man died Tuesday night when he was struck by lightning while trying to operate an electric pump at his home in Pellestrina, one of the islands surrounding the city. The body of another man was found in his home.

“We ask the government to help us,” Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said yesterday. “This is the result of climate change,” he added and estimated the damage caused by the floods to be hundreds of millions of euros. The governor of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, said that Venice is “on its knees,” adding that the city is going through “apocalyptic devastation.”

Francesco Moraglia, the Patriarch of Saint Mark’s Basilica Monsignor, said that the basilica had suffered “structural damage because the water has risen.” He added: “This is causing irreparable harm, especially — when it dries out — in the lower section of the mosaics and tiling.”

Saint Mark’s Basilica is being flooded for the fourth time in the last 20 years. The last flooding in November 2018 caused an estimated €2.2 million ($2.42 million) of damage, the Guardian reported. “I have never seen something like what I saw yesterday afternoon [Tuesday] at St. Mark’s square,” Moraglia told reporters today. “There were waves as if we were at the beach.”

The Venice Biennale announced today that it will be closed until tomorrow due to the extreme weather. The biennale reported on its website that no major damage has been reported at the Giardini and Arsenale venues, and said that inspection and restoration operations are currently underway. Other art venues in the city closed their doors as well including the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Pinault Collection, the Palazzo Grassi, and Punta della Dogana.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

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