Monday, December 01, 2008

Deepest acqua alta in 22 years -- Mayor tells people to stay out

The story is from I took the photos in October 2002. The first is behind the Rialto stalls; the second is shows San Marco under water.
(ANSA) - Venice, December 1 - Venice was swamped Monday by one of the highest tides in its history.

St Mark's square was submerged under almost a metre of water and the rest of the historic centre was swimming too, with many pontoon bridges floating off to leave residents stranded in their homes.

The only Venetians getting about were those equipped with thigh-high boots of the kind fishermen wear.

Many elderly people had to be carried to safety, and the bottom floors of homes and shops started operating their bailout pumps.

City Mayor Massimo Cacciari advised local people to stay at home and anyone thinking of coming to Venice to ''think again''.

To cap things off, the city was hit by a transport strike which prompted Veneto Governor Giancarlo Galan to say sarcastically: ''I'd like to give them (the strikers) a medal for their sense of responsibility''.

Pushed by relentless winds, the sea level rose to 156 centimetres above normal - the highest 'acqua alta' (high water) since 1.58m in 1986 and 1.66m in December 1979.

The record 'acqua alta' was in the great flood of 1966, at 1.94m. Levels of 100-130 cm above sea level are fairly common in the lagoon city and Venice is well-equipped to cope with its rafts of pontoon walkways.

But anything much above 140cm risks swamping the city and washing the walkways away.

The high-water threat 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 the catastrophic 1966 flood, and a system of moveable flood barriers called MOSE is being installed after years of polemics.

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.

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