The Italian city of Venice is “underwater” as wild weather including heavy rain and strong winds lash the city.
As the huge deluge was pushed into the lagoon city, authorities were caught off guard before they could activate the flood barriers rolled out just two months ago.
The system of 78 flood gates, known as Mose, guard the entrance to the Venetian lagoon and are designed to protect the city from tides of up to three metres. However, they require 48 hours’ notice to be activated.
Weather bulletins in past days had forecast rainfall pushing sea levels up to 120 centimetres, below the 130cm threshold at which the flood barriers are operated.
Venice floodwaters reach 145cm peak
However Luigi Brugnaro, the city’s mayor, said on Twitter the weather had suddenly worsened and water had reached a 145-centimetre peak as strong sirocco winds blew in from Croatia and two rivers flooded near the sea around Venice.
He called for more rapid and reactive protocols in the operation of Mose in order to face sudden weather changes.
“The situation is terrible, we are underwater,” Carlo Alberto Tesserin, responsible for managing Saint Mark’s Basilica, said, adding if the water rose further all the internal chapels would be flooded.
The risk of landslides and avalanches remains high across the country after recent heavy rains and snowfall.
Photos of Venice submerged
Photos of the once booming tourist hotspot show its most recognised areas under water as locals take refuge in their homes away from floodwaters.
One image shows a flooded St Mark’s Square swamped by knee-deep floodwaters.
Others show people trudging through an arcade in St Mark’s Square while a video shows a person riding on an inflatable flamingo through the flooded city.
The centre for tidal forecasts in the Venice area said the water would recede to 120 centimetres on Wednesday (local time) and be back up to 135 centimetres on Thursday.
Climate change impacts Venice flooding
High tides, or “acqua alta” in Italian, have been regular occurrences in Venice over the years, caused by a combination of factors exacerbated by climate change – from rising sea levels and unusually high tides to land subsidence that has caused the ground level of the city to sink.
Of the 24 tides ever recorded above the 140cm level, 15 have occurred in the last two decades, including five last November when the city’s St Mark’s Square was submerged under a metre of water.
Designed in 1984, construction of the multi-billion euro Mose project started in 2003 but was plagued by delays, corruption and cost overruns.
The 78 yellow barriers were tested in July and then first raised in October.
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