Venice was hit by the highest tide in more than 50 years late Tuesday, with tourists wading through flooded streets to seek shelter as a fierce wind whipped up waves in St. Mark's Square.
The exceptionally intense “acqua alta,” or high waters, peaked at 1.87 metres (six feet) as the flood alarm sounded across the Italian city of canals, the tide monitoring centre said.
⚠ Tutte le forze dell'ordine mobilitate, oltre che volontari della Protezione civile e agenti della Polizia locale@giornaleprociv @muoversivenezia @Emergenza24 @LuigiBrugnaro pic.twitter.com/hanrHkwIXS
— Comune di Venezia (@comunevenezia) November 12, 2019
After receding slightly overnight, water levels are now reportedly rising again with another high tide of around 160cm predicted for Wednesday morning, local media reported.
Only once since records began in 1923 has the water crept even higher, reaching 1.94 metres in 1966.
People take photos and cross the flooded St. Mark's square by St. Mark's Basilica after an exceptional overnight “Alta Acqua” high tide water level. AFP
“We're currently facing an exceptionally high tide. Everyone has been mobilised to cope with the emergency,” Venice's mayor Luigi Brugnaro tweeted.
As emergency services took to the canals to survey the damage, Italian media reported that a 78-year old local had been killed by electric shock as the waters poured into his home.
The coast guard laid on extra boats to serve as water ambulances.
Tables and chairs set out for aperitivo bobbed along alleyways in the dark, as people waved aloft inside-out umbrellas, the water slopping over the top of even the highest waders and wellies.
Water taxis attempting to drop people off at the glamorous and historic hotels along the Grand Canal discovered the gangways had been washed away, and had to help passengers clamber through windows.
“It will be a long night,” Brugnaro tweeted, saying that as the water level began to drop again “the fears of a few hours ago are now being replaced by an assessment of the damage done”.
He said he would declare a state of disaster for the city.
Alle 12.00 conferenza stampa con @zaiapresidente e Angelo Borelli @DPCgov
Chiederemo stato di crisi. Cittadini e imprese raccolgano materiale utile a dimostrare danni subiti. Nei prossimi giorni comunicheremo modalità per richiesta di contributo
Info: https://t.co/SzLWTGi5XM pic.twitter.com/NDXsFLo34R
— Luigi Brugnaro (@LuigiBrugnaro) November 13, 2019
The exceptional flood, which he blamed on climate change, was “a wound that will leave a permanent mark”.
At the sumptuous Gritti Palace, which has played host to royals and celebrities over the decades, including Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the decadent bar was largely underwater.
Rich tapestries were piled onto tables, while the waters lapped around velvet sofas and leather-bound books.
A couple of French tourists caught out said they had “effectively swum” after some of the wooden platforms placed around the city in areas prone to flooding overturned.
Where are the planned flood defences?
Since 2003, a massive infrastructure project has been underway to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, scandals and delays.
A worker pumps water out of the underground crypt at St Mark's Basilica. Photo: AFP
The plan calls for the construction of 78 floating gates to protect Venice's lagoon during high tides.
St. Mark's Square is particularly affected by the high tides, as it is located in one of the lowest parts of the city.
A general view shows people walk by a stranded gondola across the flooded Riva degli Schiavoni embankment and St. Mark's square (Rear), with the Santa Maria della Salute church in background. AFP
A stranded taxi boat on Venice's Riva degli Schiavoni on Tuesday after being washed away by the tide. AFP
The vestibule of the basilica was inundated with water, and authorities planned to watch the building overnight.
Pierpaolo Campostrini, a member of St. Mark's council, said the scale of the flooding on Tuesday had only been seen five times in the long history of the basilica, where construction began in 828 and which was rebuilt after a fire in 1063.
Most worryingly, Campostrini said, three of those five episodes occurred in the last 20 years, most recently in 2018.
The culture ministry said it would help fund improvements to the basilica's flood defences.
Venice was not alone as powerful rainstorms swept through Italy on Tuesday, hitting the south hard.
The wave of storms and bad weather on Tuesday.closed schools and left roads blocked across Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily.
Matera, this year's European Capital of Culture, was hit by a deluge of floodwater, and Salento''s olive trees were reportedly damaged by fierce winds. No injuries were reported.
Venice experienced serious flooding at around the same time last year.