The first high water of the autumn hit Venice Monday and emergency sirens blared across the lagoon city yesterday as tourists were evacuated from the centre.
75% of the city centre was underwater, officials said, after high tides and stormy weather caused waters in the canal-ringed city to reach historic high levels.
Yesterday visitors were barred from an inundated St. Mark's Square and police carried children to safety as the “acqua alta” (high water) passed the 110 cm above sea level mark – at which citizens are alerted to potential danger – and then kept rising.
Tourists attempt to stay dry on a footbridge in the flooded streets of Venice yesterday. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Local authorities said the water peaked at 156 centimetres (61 inches) by early afternoon. The elevated wooden platforms usually placed on main passageways in the Renaissance city were not enough to ensure safe passage in the low-lying square.
The high water level also halted the city’s vaporetto services.
While some tourists donned wellies, others had opted to take off their shoes and wade through the water.
People wade through high water under arches next to the flooded St Mark's Square yesterday. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
The region of Veneto remains on red alert today with more severe weather expected.
Much of Italy was battered by severe storms yesterday, which hit northern regions especially hard. Nine people were reported dead across the country and dozens more injured.
Authorities said the flooding in Venice was caused by a convergence of high tide and a strong Sirocco (wind from North Africa) along with exceptionally heavy rainfall.
Schools are closed in Genoa, Rome and Veneto, as well as in several northern towns and the Sicilian port of Messina.
Café chairs float in the flooded St Mark's Square yesterday afternoon. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
The high-water threat
The waters have only topped 150 centimetres five times before in recorded history.
The danger has been increasing in recent years as heavier rains have hit northern Italy, weather experts say.
Scientists have conceived various ways of warding off the waters since a dramatic 1966 flood, and a system of moveable flood barriers called MOSE is being installed after years of rows.
Experts say there are three main reasons for high water in the city: the rising floor in the lagoon caused by incoming silt; the undermining of the islands by the extraction of methane gas in the sea off Venice; and the overall increase in sea levels caused by global warming.