In Flood-Stricken Area of Italy, Residents Fear This Won’t Be the Last of It (2023)


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Flooding upended tens of thousands of lives this week in Emilia-Romagna, a region that has also experienced drought in recent years.

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In Flood-Stricken Area of Italy, Residents Fear This Won’t Be the Last of It (1)

By Gaia Pianigiani and Elisabetta Povoledo

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Gaia Pianigiani reported from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome.

When the floods hit in the northern Italian town of Lugo this past week, overflowing a local watercourse and sending water gushing into streets and the surrounding fields, Irinel Lungu, 45, retreated with his wife and toddler to the second floor of their home.

As rescue workers navigated submerged streets in dinghies to deliver baby formula and rescue older people from their homes, the couple watched in the cold as the water rose higher and higher.

Downstairs the “water was up to my chest,” he said on Saturday, adding, “We had nowhere to go.”

Relief has not yet come to some parts of Lugo and other northern Italian towns that were inundated with floods in which 14 people died and thousands were rendered homeless. Swelled rivers and canals have submerged vast swaths of the countryside. Hundreds of dangerous landslides have paralyzed much of the area. And some landlocked towns in the mountains are completely isolated, essentially reachable only by helicopter.

On Saturday, as rain fell again, residents around the ancient city of Ravenna — once the capital of the Byzantine Empire — were facing the deluge while receding waters in some of the hardest-hit towns revealed warped and waterlogged furniture piled next to broken kitchen appliances. Soaked sofas sank into the mud. Bottles of olive oil and canned goods, covered in mud, lined the streets. A car, lifted by the rushing water, teetered precariously on a garden fence.


In Flood-Stricken Area of Italy, Residents Fear This Won’t Be the Last of It (2)

The floods have upended tens of thousands of lives in the region, Emilia-Romagna, as exceptional weather in some areas brought about half the typical annual rainfall in 36 hours. And experts say it may no longer be so exceptional.

Extreme weather events have become more commonplace in Europe, from the violent storms and raging floods that killed dozens in Germany two years ago to the scorching temperatures that set records in a normally temperate Britain last July. Italy has suffered its own fair share of extreme events, caught between bouts of extreme drought that parch towns, cripple agriculture and dry out the country’s breadbasket, and then torrential rains and floods like those of this past week.

The extremes make for a brutal cycle in which hillsides stripped of trees by summer wildfires, and lands desiccated by drought, fail to absorb rainfall — in this case biblical amounts of it. The pattern could leave millions of Italians surrounded by water now, but, in the summer, thirsting for a drop.

Last summer, the land was so dry “that you could see cracks,” Roberto Zanardi, 59, who lives in the Lugo area, said with exasperation as he pointed at submerged pear and persimmon groves around him on Saturday. “Look at them now.”


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Italy’s leaders are trying to come to terms with what scientists say is the new normal of climate change, but some lawmakers are asking whether the country missed opportunities to better prepare for the extreme flooding that many saw coming and to protect the country with artificial basins or other solutions.

“Let’s get it into our heads that we live in an area at risk and that the process of tropicalization of the climate has also reached Italy,” Nello Musumeci, the country’s civil protection minister, said in an interview this past week with La Stampa, a newspaper based in Turin in northern Italy.

“In the agendas of all governments over the past 80 years, the fragility of our territory has never been a truly priority issue,” he added. “The question to ask is not whether a disastrous event like Tuesday’s will happen again, but when and where it will occur.”

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced Saturday that she would cut short her trip to Japan, where she has been participating in the Group of 7 meeting, so she could visit the flooded areas Sunday and lead the response to the emergency.

“Frankly, I can’t stay so far away from Italy at such a difficult time,” she said at a media briefing. “My conscience requires me to come back.”


The flooding resulted from what experts described as a perfect storm of bad weather, already-saturated soil from storms earlier in the month and high seas.

Heavy rainstorms settled over a large area of Emilia-Romagna for a considerable period of time, pushed by fronts and blocked by the Apennine Mountains.

A storm in the nearby Adriatic Sea trapped the water on the lower-lying plains.

Rivers, streams and canals overflowed, and in some cases eroded their embankments, in an area that is one of Italy’s most at risk for flooding. Soil that was dried out from months of drought struggled to absorb that water.


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On Saturday, along the banks of the Santerno River in Emilia-Romagna, workers operated a crane to demolish a two-story building after water broke through the river’s 33-foot-high embankment, engulfing the structure and stripping it of its facade, which had landed in a field across the road. It was left lying next to several cars and patches of torn-up and washed-away asphalt.

Andrea Burattoni, a 48-year-old farmer who lives on the street, looked on as the crane slammed against the walls, gradually revealing the remains of what was once a home. Bed frames, kitchen furniture and a cabinet of sports trophies tumbled to the ground. The owner, an older resident, had been evacuated by his family as the waters rose.

Yet Mr. Burattoni and his family were staying put, despite the fear they felt when water swelled through the fields.

“The roar was deafening, like the earthquake,” he said, referring to the temblors that in 2012 devastated the region. On Saturday, he surveyed his fields where he grew peaches alongside vineyards, buried under muddy brown water. “The roots are not breathing — it’s like if they were covered by a plastic tarp,” he said. “It’ll take weeks for the water to drain, but the season is gone.”


Experts say that much of the world can also expect more unusual and severe storms as the globe heats up, increasing the urgency for action to protect communities.

Barbara Lastoria, a hydraulic engineer at the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, in Rome, said the debates over water management that emerged this past week because of the flooding meant little if the larger, and existential, issue of climate change were not addressed.

“The rise in temperatures leads to the development of extreme phenomena like droughts and flooding — they are two sides of the same coin,” she said. “Rising temperature is like gasoline in the engine of extreme phenomena: It has to be dealt with first.”

For some, the flooding was cause for relocation.

Claudio Dosi, 46, a welder in Sant’Agata sul Santerno, said he was contemplating moving away after his parents were evacuated to a local sports center when their home filled with water. “I am not sure we have a future here,” he said.

Others did not want to budge.

Lillia Osti, 77, said that she had been living in the same home, surrounded by wheat and pear fields northwest of Lugo, for 60 years. Flooding was not unusual in that low-lying area, she said, although the waters had never before inundated “our ground floor onto the furniture.”

Around her, family members removed rain-soaked doors so that they could dry. “This is not normal, but as long as we are alive, we will rebuild,” she said.

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GaiaPianigianiis a reporter based in Italy for The New York Times. @gaia_pianigiani

Elisabetta Povoledo is a reporter based in Rome and has been writing about Italy for more than three decades. @EPovoledo Facebook

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In Flood-Stricken Area of Italy, Residents Fear This Won’t Be the Last of It? ›

In Flood-Stricken Area of Italy, Residents Fear This Won't Be the Last of It. Flooding upended tens of thousands of lives this week in Emilia-Romagna

Romagna (Romagnol: Rumâgna) is an Italian historical region that approximately corresponds to the south-eastern portion of present-day Emilia-Romagna, North Italy. Traditionally, it is limited by the Apennines to the south-west, the Adriatic to the east, and the rivers Reno and Sillaro to the north and west. › wiki › Romagna
, a region that has also experienced drought in recent years.

When was Venice last flooded? ›

On the night of 12 November 2019, Venice was hit by a tide of water over 1.8m high. At its peak, more than 80 per cent of the city was underwater. Historic buildings and monuments were flooded. Businesses and homes were gutted.

What is happening to Venice? ›

It is difficult to predict an exact timeline for when Venice will be underwater, as the process of subsidence and sea level rise is gradual and affected by various factors. However, experts have suggested that if current trends continue, the city could be at risk of disappearing beneath the waves by as early as 2100.

What is the project to save Venice from sinking? ›

Mose is projected to protect Venice and the lagoon from tides up to three meters high and from a rise in sea level up to 60 centimeters in the next 100 years.

How often does Venice flood? ›

Venice has battled rising water levels since the fifth century. But today, the water seems to be winning. Several factors, both natural and man-made, cause Venice to flood about 100 times a year — usually from October until late winter — a phenomenon called the acqua alta.

How does Venice deal with flooding? ›

Like Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice is designed to work with flooding. Electrical junction boxes are kept where even the highest of tides can't reach. Elevated wooden walkways, or "duckboards," are set up quickly to connect buildings when sidewalks are submerged.

Is Venice flooded 2023? ›

If you were planning an upcoming gondola ride in Italy, Venice's 2023 drought has caused canals to run completely dry. Only three months after being submerged by flooding waters, Venice is kicking off 2023 with a drought.

Is it safe to go to Venice right now? ›

Is Venice safe for tourists? We believe so yes! In fact, Venice is known for being a tourist-friendly city and you can expect to see people from all walks of life enjoying their time here. You can see people traveling solo as well as families who travel with their kids.

Why can't you swim in the Venice canals? ›

There are two main reasons why swimming in the canals is a bad idea. For one, it's dangerous because of all the gondolas and motorboats. In addition, it's unsanitary because they're contaminated by household and industrial wastewater.

Why is Venice built over water? ›

Firstly, the city's lagoon provided a natural defensive barrier against invaders, which was crucial during the turbulent Middle Ages. The shallow waters and numerous islands made it difficult for enemy ships to navigate, giving the Venetians a strategic advantage.

Does Venice treat its sewage? ›

Nowadays, over 7,000 septic tanks collect the city's sewage. Septic tanks allow for sewage treatment so that liquid waste will not pollute the water when reaching a canal. There are also special boats designed to empty septic tanks of solid and fat sediments.

Is all of Venice built on water? ›

Venice is widely known as the “Floating City”, as its buildings seem to be rising straight from the water. The city was constructed on a swampy area, made up of over a hundred small islands and marshlands in between. When Venice was first erected, residents chose not to build any property directly on land.

What time of year does Venice smell? ›

Does Venice smell bad? Some sources report an occasional bad smell in the summer months. This is due to a couple of factors. Firstly, garbage left out in the summer heat rots faster than any other time of the year.

Does Venice flood every 4 years? ›

How often does acqua alta occur? Statistically, exceptional high tides—when the water level of the lagoon is 140 cm or more above the standard sea level, the point at which more than half of the island of Venice is flooded—only happen once every four years.

Are mosquitoes bad in Venice Italy? ›

Venice's lagoon is infamous for its dreaded mosquitoes, zanzare. If you're prone to bites and visiting in summer take some insect repellent or a repelling device with you, or buy them in a local supermarket.

How does Venice get drinking water? ›

The raw water comes from the river Sile, through an artificial canal. Its springs are located in the village of Casacorba, not far from the city of Treviso. That is why tap water in Venice is absolutely safe! Yet, only a fraction of the drinking water of Venice comes from the springs of the river Sile.

Are the Venice flood gates finished? ›

(ANSA) - ROME, MAY 6 - Venice's MOSE flood barriers will be be completed in December 2023, MOSE commissioner Elisabetta Spitz said Friday. Ahead of their completion, the 'Moses' barriers have already started saving the lagoon city from its endemic acqua alta flooding.

How expensive is Venice Italy? ›

The average price of a 7-day trip to Venice is $1,837 for a solo traveler, $3,299 for a couple, and $6,185 for a family of 4. Venice hotels range from $96 to $496 per night with an average of $144, while most vacation rentals will cost $230 to $490 per night for the entire home.

What months does Venice flood? ›

Acqua alta typically occurs from October to March, however flooding can occur in between this period, too! The most common acqua alta events however, occur in the months of November, December and October (in that order).

Why is Italy flooding? ›

Deadly floods that have engulfed the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna, killing at least 14 people, are another sign of the accelerating climate crisis, according to researchers. The floods come after years of severe drought in the region, which has compacted the soil, reducing its ability to abemsorb rainfall.

Are the canals in Venice still dry? ›

And while climate change is sparking drought in Italy, the canals of Venice are usually full.

Is it safe to walk in Venice Italy at night? ›

Venice Crime Rate

Walking around Venice during the day is extremely safe, as well as during the nights, much more than in other big cities around Europe. Compared to the most touristic cities in Europe, Venice is much safer than Paris, Barcelona or London.

Is Italy safe for American tourists? ›

According to the U.N. and Global Peace Index, Italy is ranked 30th to 35th safest country in the world, well ahead of the U.S. However, the most dangerous thing likely to happen is pickpocketing near tourist destinations and landmarks, so using common precaution measures should suffice.

Can you wear flip flops in Venice? ›

T go to the beach in Venice I recommend you pack a bathing suit (any model you like), flip flops, travel towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, sunhat and beach coverup. It is good to know that in Italy it is not customary to walk around in a swimsuit outside of the beach so you want to have a coverup to go to the cafe.

Can you drink faucet water in Venice? ›

Don't worry – yes, of course. You can drink the water in Venice and save yourself the expense and waste of bottled water. Venice's tap water is pumped in from the Italian mainland so you don't have to worry about anything questionable in the water that is floating under the city.

Can you drink water on Venice? ›

Yes! Drinking water in Venice is pure, cool, and tasty. It's pumped in from deep wells on the Venetian mainland, so feel free to slurp from the faucet or fill your water bottle from 122 neighborhood fountains in the city center.

Are there cars in Venice? ›

As you now know, Venice is a car-free city that can only be explored on foot or by boat. However, it is possible to drive to Venice by car and park your vehicle in one of the parking areas outside the historic city center. Thankfully, there are several parking options available for those driving to Venice.

Where does Venice sewage go? ›

Most of Venice's sewage goes directly into the city's canals. Flush a toilet, and someone crossing a bridge or cruising up a side canal by gondola may notice a small swoosh of water emerging from an opening in a brick wall.

Do houses in Venice get damp? ›

As residents often say, Venice is a coastal city with a continental climate. There's another sort of damp which you'll encounter in Venice, a sort which occurs all year round, and with increasing severity: rising damp. The Venetian variety is different from its London counterpart.

How deep are Venice canals? ›

The range of the depth in the smaller canals in Venice varies from almost nothing to around 2 meters (7 feet). In Canal Grande, the depth can be up to 5 meters (16 feet). On the outside of the city, it's much deeper.

Are toilets free in Venice? ›

Public toilets are difficult to find, but there are clean ones at various places around the town (see map below) such as the Station, Academia bridge, San Marco, and Arsenal. Some of these are staffed by an attendant, so you have to pay to use them (usually about 1 euro).

Is the water in Venice nasty? ›

To be honest, the water is super dirty and you don't want to swim in it. In fact, the use of canals as a sewage disposal system in Venice surprises many visitors, and should definitely deter you.

Do the Venice canals get drained and cleaned? ›

However, Venice is one of the World's most popular tourism hotspots and a lot of money is invested in its tourism industry. This means that the canals and waterways are cleaned on a regular basis, picking up litter and other waste that has found its way into the water.

Can you just walk around Venice? ›

Venice is a walking city. Even if Venice is known as a floating city and most of the people think that is mandatory to take a vaporetto or a boat to get around, the best way to visit it is on foot.

Why is Venice so rich? ›

Venice became wealthy and mighty through naval trade, as their geographical position allowed the merchants of Venice to be the key middleman between the Middle East and destinations throughout Europe. It was the commercial prototype for 17th century Amsterdam and 18th century London. It was the market to the world.

Who built Venice and why? ›

The Veneti, who had been expelled by the Ostrogoths and the Lombards, took refuge in these marshlands in the mouth of the River Po, forming the city of Venice. The city's “privileged” site in the middle of a swamp gave it a great independence and made it very difficult for those that wanted to seize the land.

How are the houses in Venice built? ›

Long ago the buildings were built by using long wooden piles (about 60' long) driven deep into the ground. These piles go deep down into the soil, reaching past the weak silt and dirt to a portion of the ground that was hard clay which could hold the weight of the buildings placed on the piles above.

Can you drive in Venice Italy? ›

Can you drive in Venice? You can drive to Venice by car, but you cannot drive in Venice itself. The city center is a car-free area. When you see the little islands connected by tiny bridges, you will understand that Venice can only be visited by boat or on foot and not by car.

Does Venice get cold? ›

Winter. The weather in Venice in the winter is cold, with lows of around 7 °C in January. There is a small chance of snow in Venice in December, but January sees an average of 1.2 days of snowfall throughout the month.

Why is Venice so quiet at night? ›

As the light fades, Venice becomes truly magical, and at night the lights reflect off the water and the streets are quieter so you can enjoy Venice (almost) to yourself. Most day-trippers will arrive sometime after 9 am and usually leave in the early evening to head back to their cruise ship or tour bus.

What is the most crowded month in Venice? ›

The busiest months in Venice are typically April through October, with the highest crowds in July and August.

What will Venice look like in 100 years? ›

Venice will be underwater within a century if the acceleration in global warming is not quelled and flood defences installed, a new climate change report has warned. The ancient and iconic city will be flooded because the Mediterranean Sea is forecast to rise by up to 140cm before 2100, according to the research.

Are the buildings in Venice floating? ›

All the monuments and buildings of the city are constructed entirely on water. These buildings and monuments appear as if they are emanating from the water and give a feeling of a floating city to the tourist. The construction of Venice city started back in 421 AD.

Do people live in Venice? ›

Yes, people do live in Venice.

It is known for its historic canals and gondolas, as well as its cultural and artistic heritage. Despite being a popular tourist destination, Venice is also home to a resident population of around 55,000 people.

Are there bedbugs in Venice? ›

Anyone can get bed bugs through a variety of ways regardless of personal hygiene. These sneaky pests have the ability to hide in the tiniest spaces without being detected, which makes everyone vulnerable to their threats in Venice.

Are there bed bugs in Venice Italy? ›

While some of their relatives are more common in tropical locations, these creatures live all around the world, including around Italy and in Rome. Bed bugs typically come out at night, and they often go unnoticed until one discovers bites on their skin.

Do Italians get bitten by mosquitoes? ›

All over Italy, unfortunately, you will be likely to find yourself harassed by mosquitoes buzzing in the middle of the night or during the day. Despite their being annoying to anyone, there are ways to avoid them of course.

Does Venice flood anymore? ›

From 1950 to 1970, Venice sank nearly five inches. The pumping has long stopped, but Venice still sinks about two millimeters a year.

What month does Venice flood? ›

Each year between the months of October and January, sections of Venice experience extreme flooding. The seasonal high tides are known as "acqua alta," or "high water."

When could Venice sink? ›

In worst-case scenario, the city could disappear beneath the waves by as early as 2100. Meanwhile, many of its building are sinking or being damaged by the wakes of boats. It is also routinely overwhelmed by tourists, while its local population is in a state of continual decline.

Has Venice ever been drained? ›

Dry Canals

The UNESCO World Heritage site, which dates back to the fifth century, has in many areas been reduced to a mud pit, to the shock of the city's many visitors. Photos show long stretches of the city's canals reduced to a puddle, exposing the mud and the adjacent buildings' foundations.

Is Venice Italy safe for American tourists? ›

Is Venice safe to travel alone? Yes, Venice is a safe city to explore if you're travelling alone. Whether you're young, old, male or a female solo traveller, in Venice you'll never feel unsafe. The crime rate is low and even moving around on foot in the evening shouldn't concern you.

Could Venice be raised? ›

Another solution would be to raise Venice above the waves by 30 to 50 cm by injecting sea water into the foundations of the city, but for now this idea remains entirely theoretical. Since October 2020, the MOSE flood defence system has been raising sluice gates to protect the Venice lagoon.

Can you still visit Venice? ›

Generally, Venice is a safe destination. With some local help, we put together this guide to safety in Venice. It covers everything from the coronavirus to tips for solo travelers. Work with a local to build your trip to Venice.

Is September a good time to visit Venice? ›

The best time to visit Venice is from September to November when tourists desert the city. Although the temperatures – which range from the upper 30s to mid-70s – necessitate some layers, the lowered hotel rates and the barren canals make it worth it.

Is October a good time to visit Venice Italy? ›

When is the best time to visit Venice? The best time to visit Venice is during April, May, September, and October when the city is warm and dry but not too hot. Avoid visiting in August when the weather is hot and muggy and many Venetians leave for a month-long vacation.

Why is Venice built on water? ›

Firstly, the city's lagoon provided a natural defensive barrier against invaders, which was crucial during the turbulent Middle Ages. The shallow waters and numerous islands made it difficult for enemy ships to navigate, giving the Venetians a strategic advantage.

Was Venice built on water or did it sink? ›

Venice is widely known as the “Floating City”, as its buildings seem to be rising straight from the water. The city was constructed on a swampy area, made up of over a hundred small islands and marshlands in between. When Venice was first erected, residents chose not to build any property directly on land.

Is Venice worth going to? ›

A resounding YES! Although it's visited by more than 20 million people each year, Venice is not an overrated city to explore in Italy. Built on more than 120 small islands, with most interconnected by more than 400 bridges, the history, and architecture of the city are incredibly unique.


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