High waters peaked at 1.87 metres as the flood alarm sounded across the Italian city of canals
The mayor of Venice is poised to declare a state of emergency after the city was hit by the highest tide in more than 50 years, with another surge expected to cause further destruction on Wednesday.
Flooding in the lagoon city reached its second-highest level ever in the wake of the aqua alta, or high waters, which hit 1.87 metres on Tuesday night amid heavy rain. La Stampa reported that two people had died. One elderly man was electrocuted after his home was flooded, causing a short circuit, on the island of Pellestrina, and the body of another man was found in his home.
More than 85% of the city was flooded on Tuesday night. The highest level recorded was 1.98 metres (78 in) in 1966. A further wave is expected to reach 1.60 metres on Wednesday, Ansa reported.
The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, blamed the climate crisis for the “dramatic situation”. Announcing he would declare a state of emergency, he warned the flood levels represented “a wound that will leave indelible signs”.
Brugnaro has also called on the Italian government to help the city immediately as the cost of the damage was expected to be “very high”. In November 2018, high tides cost an estimated €2.2m (£1.9m) of damage to St Mark’s Basilica.
Brugnaro also pledged that the long-delayed Mose project, designed to prevent flooding in the Venice lagoon by constructing off-shore barriers, would be completed. Work began in 2003 but has been dogged by delays and myriad issues, including a corruption scandal that emerged in 2014.
The coastguard laid on extra boats to serve as water ambulances. Tables and chairs set out for aperitifs bobbed along alleyways in the dark, as locals and tourists alike waved aloft umbrellas, the water slopping over the top of even the highest waders and wellies.
Water taxis attempting to drop people off at the historic hotels along the Grand Canal discovered the gangways had been washed away, and had to help passengers clamber through windows.
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 bar was largely underwater. Rich tapestries were piled on to 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.
St Mark’s Square is particularly affected by the high tides, as it is located in one of the lowest parts of the city.