In November this year, Venice saw its worst flood for more than 50 years, with tides reaching 187cm. As the water rose, many world-famous sites became submerged in water including St Mark’s Basilica and the libraries of the ‘Fondazione Giorgio Cini’, an academic research and cultural centre, housing 100,000 books and periodicals, all specialising in Venetian history, art and culture.
With ferries cut off by the water, no one had been able to reach the library, which is located in a former Benedictine monastery on the tiny island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and therefore, the ground floor had, sadly, not been safeguarded against the flooding.
Emanuela Vozza, a former PhD student at the institute, heard that help was needed to rescue the books housed at the library, and posted a message in a hundred-strong Watsapp group called SOS Laguna, a group which sprung up during the flooding to respond to Venetians’ needs.
This group of young volunteers have been using social media to lead an enormous city-wide clean up following the chaos of the flooding. Heading from door to door, students and young people have been offering help to shopkeepers and restaurant owners and checking in on the elderly and vulnerable, using Facebook, Instagram, Watsapp and Telegram to the spread the word when they identify places in the city where help is needed.
Official emergency services were understandably under severe pressure, so these local residents and students braved wet weather to drain flooded ground floors, to collect debris and ruined furniture and to send storm waste away for recycling. Some even used private boats to clean up debris from streets where the overwhelmed local waste services had failed to cover.
These amazing goodwill volunteers have been named the “Angels of the Acqua Alta (high water)” – recalling the so-called Angels of Florence”, who helped rescue the city of Tuscany’s cultural treasures after the Arno river flooded in 1966.
Sonia Demasi, a student activist from the Fridays for Future climate strike group, explained that, “The climate emergency is here in Italy now. We are helping because the community needs us, but we are still asking for a political solution.”
Bookworms around the world will be delighted to hear that the work The Angels of Acqua Alta achieved during their saviour of Fondazione Giorgio Cini’s library books and periodicals has reportedly paid off. The group of volunteers managed to salve hundreds of the books and periodicals by using paper towels to dry the water-logged pages “The pages have dried, the books are just a bit warped now,” said Emanuela Vozza.