Venice floods: Banksy artwork underwater after tides reach highest level in 50 years

14 November 2019, 13:30 | Updated: 15 November 2019, 07:59

Banksy is used to seeing his artwork go under the hammer, but much of one of his most famous pieces is now under water after Venice suffered its worst flooding in more than 50 years.

Italy has declared a state of emergency in the historic city, with large swathes of the tourist hot spot having been submerged by "apocalyptic" floods across its basilica, squares and centuries-old buildings.

Also covered by water is a Banksy drawing showing a migrant child wearing a life-jacket and holding a neon pink flare, which first appeared on a wall near the Campo San Pantalon earlier this year and was later confirmed to be the work of the elusive artist via his Instagram account.

The emergency declaration was approved at a cabinet meeting held by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, where the first measures aimed at helping the city's recovery were agreed.

Speaking before the meeting, he said it would mean funding to ensure a flood barrier project, known as Moses and designed in 1984 to protect Venice from high tides, would be completed as soon as possible.

"This will make it possible to assign the first financial aid to pay for the emergency spending and restore services," said the PM, who went to Venice to observe the damage and discuss the relief effort with officials.

"Our commitment to Venice is total," the PM told Italian news agency ANSA as he headed back to the capital Rome. "The situation in this unique city is dramatic."

The flood barrier system is still not up and running despite decades of planning and work and billions of euros of investment.

Mr Conte said: "Lots of money has been spent. Now it must be completed and maintained."

He told Radio Capital that the aim was to complete the project by the end of 2021, adding: "I hope that it is partially in use before then."

Residents and tourists woke to sirens on Thursday - indicating that the tide was again expected to exceed 130cm (4.26ft).

It has already peaked at 187cm (6.14ft) - the second highest level in the city's history - just short of the 194cm seen in 1966.

Scores of homes and businesses have been flooded, with the high tides ravaging areas beyond the city itself.

Two people have reportedly died as a result of the flooding.

A man in his 70s died on the barrier island of Pellestrina after being electrocuted, and another person died on the same island, though the cause was unknown, ANSA said.

Earlier this week, city mayor Luigi Brugnaro blamed climate change for the current crisis.

"Venice is on its knees" he said on Twitter.

"The damage will run into hundreds of millions of euros."

He added: "This is the result of climate change."

The high water is known locally as "acqua alta" but even low levels take their toll - eroding the foundations of buildings in the lagoon city.