Venice hit by another ferocious high tide, flooding city

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A flooded St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP)
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A man takes photos of a flooded alley in Venice, Italy, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP)
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A flooded St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP)
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A man holds his luggage as he wades through water in Venice, Italy, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2019

Venice hit by another ferocious high tide, flooding city

  • The government declared a state of emergency for Venice on Thursday, allocating 20 million euros ($22 million) to address the immediate damage
  • Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is spread over 118 islands and once presided over a powerful maritime empire

VENICE: An exceptionally high tide hit Venice again on Friday just three days after the city suffered its worst flooding in more than 50 years, leaving squares, shops and hotels once more inundated.
Mayor Luigi Brugnaro closed access to the submerged St. Mark’s Square and issued an international appeal for funds, warning that the damage caused by this week’s floods could rise to one billion euros.
Local authorities said the high tide peaked at 154 cm (5.05 ft), slightly below expectations and significantly lower than the 187 cm level reached on Tuesday, which was the second highest tide ever recorded in Venice.
But it was still enough to leave 70% of the city under water, fraying the nerves of locals who faced yet another large-scale clean-up operation.
“We have been in this emergency for days and we just can’t put up with it any more,” said Venetian resident Nava Naccara.
The government declared a state of emergency for Venice on Thursday, allocating 20 million euros ($22 million) to address the immediate damage, but Brugnaro predicted the costs would be vastly higher and launched a fund to help pay for repairs.
“Venice was destroyed the other day. We are talking about damage totalling a billion euros,” he said in a video.
Sirens wailed across the city from the early morning hours, warning of the impending high tide. Sea water swiftly filled the crypt beneath St. Mark’s Basilica, built more than a thousand years ago.
Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is spread over 118 islands and once presided over a powerful maritime empire. The city is filled with Gothic architectural masterpieces which house paintings by some of Italy’s most important artists.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said initial checks suggested the damage to St. Mark’s was not irreparable, but warned that more than 50 churches across the city had been flooded this week.
“Visiting here you see that the disaster is much bigger than you think when you watch the images on television,” he said.
After Friday’s high waters, forecasters predicted tides of up to 110-120 cm during the weekend. In normal conditions, tides of 80-90cm are generally seen as high but manageable.
The mayor has blamed climate change for the ever-increasing flood waters that the city has had to deal with in recent years, with the mean sea level estimated to be more than 20 cm higher than it was a century ago, and set to raise much further.
Groups of volunteers and students arrived in the city center to help businesses mop up, while schools remained closed, as they have been most of the week.
“When you hear the name Venice, it is always like sunsets and everything pretty but it is a bit crazy now that we are here,” said British tourist Chelsea Smart. “I knew it was going to flood ... but I didn’t expect it to be this high.”
At the city’s internationally renowned bookshop Acqua Alta — the Italian for high water — staff were trying to dry out thousands of water-damaged books and prints, usually kept in boats, bath tubs and plastic bins.
“The only thing we were able to do was to raise the books as much as possible but unfortunately even that wasn’t enough ... about half of the bookshop was completely flooded,” said Oriana, who works in the store.
Some shops stayed open throughout the high tide, welcoming in hardy customers wading through the waters in boots up to their thighs. Other stores remained shuttered, with some owners saying they had no idea when they could resume trade.
“Our electrics are burnt out,” said Nicola Gastaldon, who runs a city-center bar. “This is an old bar and all the woodwork inside is from the 1920s and earlier which we will have to scrub down with fresh water and then clean up again.”
A flood barrier designed to protect Venice from high tides is not expected to start working until the end of 2021, with the project plagued by the sort of problems that have come to characterise major Italian infrastructure programs — corruption, cost overruns and prolonged delays.


Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

Updated 23 January 2020

Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

LOS ANGELES: Nine parents who were deported as the Trump administration separated thousands of migrant families landed back into the US late Wednesday to reunite with children they had not seen in a year and a half.
The group arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Guatemala City in a trip arranged under the order of a federal judge who found the US government had unlawfully prevented them from seeking asylum. An asylum advocate confirmed the nine parents were all aboard the flight.
Some of the children were at the airport to greet them, including David Xol’s 9-year-old son Byron.
David fell to one knee and tearfully embraced Byron for about three minutes, patting the back of his son’s head.
“He was small,” David said after rising to his feet. He looked at his attorney — who accompanied him on the flight — raised his hand about chest-high and said, “He grew a lot.”
David, Byron and his attorney, Ricardo de Anda, then embraced in a three-way hug and exchanged words in their huddle. Byron was all smiles. Father, son, attorney and family sponsor eagerly left the airport for their hotel.
The reunion was a powerful reminder of the lasting effects of Trump’s separation policy, even as attention and outrage has faded amid impeachment proceedings and tensions with Iran. But it also underscored that hundreds, potentially thousands, of other parents and children are still apart nearly two years after the zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings took effect.
“They all kind of hit the lottery,” said Linda Grimm, an attorney who represents one of the parents returning to the US “There are so many people out there who have been traumatized by the family separation policy whose pain is not going to be redressed.”
More than 4,000 children are known to have been separated from their parents before and during the official start of zero tolerance in spring 2018. Under the policy, border agents charged parents en masse with illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, then placed their children in government facilities, including some “tender-age shelters” set up for infants.
The US has acknowledged that agents separated families long before they enforced zero tolerance across the entire southern border, its agencies did not properly record separations, and some detention centers were overcrowded and undersupplied, with families denied food, water or medical care.
In June 2018, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to stop separating families and reunite parents and children.
At least 470 parents were deported without their children. Some of the kids were held in US government facilities and ultimately placed with sponsors. Others were deported to their home countries.
Accounts emerged of many parents being told to sign paperwork they couldn’t read or understand or being denied a chance to request asylum in ways that violated federal law.
The US Department of Homeland Security referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the original family separation lawsuit before Sabraw, asked the judge to order the return of a small group of parents whose children remained in the US In September, Sabraw required the US to allow 11 parents to come back and denied relief to seven others.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sabraw made clear he would only order the return of people “who were misled or coerced into giving up their asylum rights.” That will leave other parents who fled violence, poverty and persecution to decide whether to have their children return to their home countries or remain in the US without them.
“Many are going to make the decision that generations of immigrant parents have made — to leave their child in the US and endure the hardship of separation, but to do it for their child’s own safety,” Gelernt said.
Xol said that after he and his then-7-year-old son, Byron, crossed the border, they were taken to a US Border Patrol processing center in South Texas. Xol was charged with illegal entry on May 19, 2018.
Two days later, Xol said an officer told him to sign a document that would allow him and Byron to be deported together. If he didn’t sign, Byron would be given up for adoption and Xol would be detained for at least two years.
Xol signed the document, only to have Byron taken away and then get deported to Guatemala. Byron was placed in government facilities for 11 months.
The family’s attorney, Ricardo de Anda, persuaded a federal court to force the US to let a Texas family take in Byron. Since May 2019, Byron has lived with Holly and Matthew Sewell and their two children, with regular video calls to his family.
Holly Sewell brought Byron, now 9, to meet his father at the airport. They planned to go back to Texas to pack and prepare for Byron to move in with his father once Xol is settled in California. Before the reunion, Byron kept asking Sewell, his caretaker, when his father would clear immigration authorities.
“They’re almost here, you’re doing great,” she said. “Count to 1,000.”
“999,” Byron responded.
She said she was thrilled Byron could see his dad again but sharply criticized the US government’s treatment of asylum-seekers.
Esvin Fernando Arredondo was expected to be on the plane. The father from Guatemala was separated from one of his daughters, Andrea Arredondo — then 12 years old and now 13, after they turned themselves in on May 16, 2018, at a Texas crossing and sought asylum legally, according to Grimm, his lawyer. He failed an initial screening and agreed to go back to Guatemala.
According to Sabraw’s ruling, the government deported Arredondo even after the judge had ordered families reunited and subsequently prohibited US officials from removing any parent separated from their child. He’s now being given a second chance at asylum under the court order.
Andrea was separated from all family for about a month, living in a shelter as the government struggled to connect children with their parents because they lacked adequate tracking systems. She was finally reunited with her mother, who had turned herself in at the Texas crossing with the other two daughters four days earlier than her husband, on May 12, 2018.
She and her two daughters passed the initial screening interview for asylum, unlike her husband, even though they were fleeing for the same reason. Their son Marco, 17, was shot and killed by suspected gang members in Guatemala City.
Arredondo’s wife, Cleivi Jerez, 41, arrived at LAX less than an hour before the flight landed with their three daughters in tow, ages 17, 13 and 7.
“Lots of nerves, last night I couldn’t sleep,” she said in Spanish in an interview after the flight landed.
Jerez said she planned to stay up late catching up with her husband. She planned to rest at their Los Angeles home tomorrow as well, catching up on their 17 months apart before he has to report to an ICE office Friday in San Diego. Alison Arredondo, 7, said she missed going to the park with her father and she wanted to go to one with him in LA.
While the US has stopped the large-scale separations, it has implemented policies to prevent many asylum-seekers from entering the country. Under its “Remain in Mexico” policy, more than 50,000 people have been told to wait there for weeks or months for US court dates. The Trump administration also is ramping up deportations of Central Americans to other countries in the region to seek asylum there.
“People want to make this a heartwarming story, but it’s not. It’s devastating,” Sewell said. “There is just no good reason why we had to do this to this child and this family. And he symbolizes thousands of others who have been put in this exact same position.”