Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:28:44 +0100 (MET)
By Filippo MONTEFORTE with Charles ONIANS in Rome

Venice, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - Venice's St Mark's Square was closed on Sunday as the historic city suffered its  third major flooding in less than a week, while rain lashing the rest of Italy prompted warnings in Florence and Pisa.   Venice's latest "acqua alta", or high water, hit 150 centimetres (just under five feet) on Sunday, lower than Tuesday's 187 centimetres -- the highest level in half a century -- but still dangerous.   "The water has stopped rising," tweeted mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who has estimated damage so far from the invading salt water at over one billion euros (dollars).   "High of 150 centimetres... Venice is working to restart," Brugnaro said after the sea water swamped the already devastated city where authorities have declared a state of emergency.   To the south, Tuscany president Enrico Rossi tweeted a warning of a "flood wave" on the Arno and said boards were being installed on the swollen river's banks in Pisa "as a precautionary measure".

The Italian army tweeted photos of paratroopers helping to bolster river defences in Pisa, with authorities monitoring the same river in Florence after heavy rain made it rise dramatically overnight.   Arno flooding devastated Renaissance jewel Florence in 1966, killing around 100 people and destroying thousands of priceless works of art. Civil protection units in Florence advised citizens "not to stand near the Arno's riverbanks".   Firefighters tweeted footage of a hovercraft being deployed to rescue stranded citizens in southern Tuscany's Grossetano province.

- Brief respite -
The renewed threat from exceptionally high tides in Venice came after a brief respite on Saturday.   Emergency workers removed temporary walkways from St Mark's Square as the water started to rise on Sunday, with only police and soldiers visible at around midday.   The top tourist site had already been shut for several hours on Friday as strong storms and winds battered the region, leaving it submerged by sea surges.

Churches, shops and homes have also been inundated in the Renaissance city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.   A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but the multi-billion euro project has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.   "We weren't expecting the high waters to be so exceptionally high," said Guido Fulgenzi, who had planned to open his cafe on St Mark's square this week.   "We're paying the price" for the MOSE project not being completed, he said, sloshing around in his flooded kitchen and pointing to Tuesday's high water mark on the wall.   The crisis has prompted the government to release 20 million euros ($22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.   Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has warned that the task of repairing the city, where more than 50 churches have suffered damage, will be huge.

- Hotel reservations cancelled -
Residents whose houses have been hit are eligible for up to 5,000 euros in immediate government aid, while restaurant and shop owners can receive up to 20,000 euros and apply for more later.   Most of the city's cash machines were no longer working, making life even more difficult for tourists and Venetians.   "We didn't expect there to be so much water, now we're soaked," said French tourist Magali Mariolou, visiting Venice for her wedding anniversary.   "We'll come back another year when it's a bit drier. The boots are heavy, they're full of water!"

Older residents who remember the infamous "acqua alta" of 1966, when the water rose to 1.94 metres, say they have not seen such frequent flooding before.   Hotels reported cancelled reservations, some as far ahead as December, following the widespread diffusion of images of Venice underwater.   Tuesday's high waters submerged around 80 percent of the city, officials said.   Many, including Venice's mayor, have blamed the disaster on global warming and warned that the country prone to natural disasters must wake up to the risks posed by ever more volatile seasons.   The Serenissima, as the floating city is called, is home to 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2019 13:43:23 +0200 (METDST)

Capriata d'Orba, Italy, Oct 22, 2019 (AFP) - A taxi driver has drowned in Italy during violent storms in the north which flooded towns and destroyed a bridge, the fire service said Tuesday.   Farmers in the sweltering south meanwhile sounded the alarm over a draught expected to hit crops hard.   Over 100 people were evacuated Monday across the Alessandria province in the Liguria region, while firefighters carried out 900 operations across the north from Milan to Genoa, as rising waters surged across roads and railways.

The taxi was swept away in the town of Capriata d'Orba, where a bridge had also given way as the river burst its banks.   "There's water everywhere", driver Fabrizio Torre, 52, told his bosses before his phone line cut out, media reported.   His passenger managed to escape the vehicle and survived by clinging to a tree, the reports said.   Two men, aged 61 and 84, were found alive by firefighters after going missing in another part of the storm-hit region.   Rescue workers also pulled young children, their grandmother and the family's dog out of a house submerged by a landslide.   The Po river rose by more than 3.5 metres (11 feet) over a 24-hour period, according to Coldiretti, Italy's main agricultural association.   Lake Maggiore was also nearing a historic level.

Italy has seen "over three storms a day since the start of autumn, 18 percent more than the same period last year," it said.   "And while the north is under rain clouds... in the south, record heat and lack of rainfall has triggered a drought alarm."   Italy was seeing "the effects of climate change, with exceptional weather events becoming the norm".   It noted a "clear endency to tropicalisation" in the Mediterranean country, which was experiencing "a crazy autumn that ranks in the top ten of the hottest since 1800, with a temperature of 1.27 degrees above the average".   The high frequency of violent events was expected to continue, with the north pummelled by rains while farmers in the south risk losing crops.
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2019 16:52:58 +0200 (METDST)
By Ella IDE

Rome, Oct 2, 2019 (AFP) - Italian officials warned Wednesday Rome's burgeoning garbage crisis constituted a health risk, as rat control services worked overtime and the waste collection company board resigned.   The board of Ama, the rubbish collection company that in recent years has been dogged by inefficiency and corruption scandals, stepped down Monday over a dispute with the city council -- just 100 days after it took over.

The previous board had been sacked in February by Rome mayor Virginia Raggi, who has come under intense pressure for the Eternal City's overflowing bins, which regularly attract seagulls, rats and, in some suburbs, wild boar.   "The chaos in which Ama finds itself, with the umpteenth resignation of the umpteenth Board of Directors... worries Rome's Order of Doctors", the organisation's president and deputy, Antonio Magi and Pierluigi Bartoletti, said in a note.   "Piles of rubbish in every street, near schools, hospitals, public places... risk creating a health emergency," they said.   Anaci, the national association of condominium administrators, said Monday it had received 12,000 requests for rodent exterminations between May and September -- three times more than it usually does over the summer period.   Rome's chief physician Antonio Magi had issued a "hygiene alert" in July, telling AFP there was a risk of disease spreading through the faeces of insects and animals banqueting on rotting waste.

- 'Big problems' -
The capital only has one waste processing plant, which is buckling under the strain.   "Within 15 days the city is going to have big problems," Ama's outgoing managing director Paolo Longoni said Wednesday.   Longoni and his fellow board members' departures marks the sixth time the board has changed in three years.   Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, became the capital's first female mayor in 2016 by tapping into anger over corruption scandals -- in particular the infiltration of crime families in the city's waste management system.

In April this year she defended herself against accusations she had failed to turn the situation around, saying Rome was "under attack" from mobsters determined not to release their grip on a lucrative sector.  Her comments followed several large blazes at waste treatment plants and hundreds of bins set alight across the city.   Crime families in Italy have long held control over large parts of the country's waste management systems.

In 2014 the capital was shaken by revelations that the city administration had, for years, been infiltrated by a mafia-style network which syphoned off millions of euros destined for public services.   The criminal network run by a one-eyed mobster with links to the far right was dubbed "Mafia Capitale" by the media.   Italy's anti-corruption body in 2015 warned Rome lacked the "antibodies" necessary to fight the infiltration of gangsters.   Opposition parties were quick Wednesday to call for Raggi's head to roll, saying the Five Star, which governs Italy in a coalition, was running the capital city into the ground in an international embarrassment for Italy.
Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2019 15:46:31 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, Sept 12, 2019 (AFP) - Authorities in Tuscany, home to some of Italy's most visited tourist attractions, have stepped up hospital controls after a deadly outbreak of the New Delhi superbug.

The antibiotic-resistant killer has shown "significant diffusion in the north-western area of Tuscany" since November 2018, infecting at least 75 people, local health authority ARS said.   The bacterial disease is believed to have killed at least 31 people in 17 different hospitals since then, Italian media reported Thursday.   More than 31 cases were reported in Pisa, home to the famous leaning tower.   Superbug NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1) sparked a global panic when it was found in the Indian capital in 2010 and showed resistance even to carbapenems, a group of antibiotics often reserved as a last line of defence.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in June issued a rapid risk assessment after a "large outbreak" of the New Delhi superbug in Tuscany.   It warned of possible cross-border infections, "especially since the affected area is a major tourist destination."   Tuscany's health authority said "the ability to resist antibiotics makes these bacteria dangerous, especially in vulnerable patients, already affected by serious pathologies or immunosuppressed."   As a result, hospitals in the region have "stepped up procedures for the prevention and control of infections in health facilities," it said.
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2019 14:39:17 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, Aug 28, 2019 (AFP) - Italy's Stromboli volcano off the coast of Sicily erupted Wednesday, according to fire fighters who rushed to put out wildfires sparked by lava flows.

Emergency services scrambled to launch motorboats and helicopters after the "strong explosion" in the south-central slope of the crater shook the island, but no-one was hurt, the fire service said on Twitter.   Falling ash from a vast mushrooming cloud covered the rooves of houses in the tiny windswept town of Stromboli, the Repubblica newspaper said, adding that the explosion had been felt on the nearby island of Salina.

The volcano, which is part of the Aeolian Islands archipelago in southern Italy, had been off limits to walkers following a deadly eruption in June which killed a hiker and sent tourists fleeing.   Stromboli, just 12 square kilometres (4.6 square miles) in area and 924 metres (3,000 feet) high, is just the top of a volcano that is largely underwater.   It is one of few in the world with almost continuous activity, according to the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.
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