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Acqua Alta

Venice square under water as complex dam system fails to activate

St Mark’s Square was drowned by water after a flood defense system failed.

italy-venice-flooding LaPresse / Anteo Marinoni LaPresse / Anteo Marinoni / Anteo Marinoni

VENICE’S ST MARK’S Square was under water today after a newly installed system of mobile artificial dams failed to activate.

Residents – long accustomed to perennial “acqua alta” or high water events – pulled on their rubber boots once more to deal with flooding that reached a high of 1.37 metres above sea level in the afternoon.

The waters drowned St Mark’s Square – the Renaissance city’s lowest area at about one metre above sea level – and invaded the famous basilica as many shopkeepers blocked their entrances with wood panels to keep the water out.

A massive flood defence system called MOSE aimed at protecting Venice’s lagoon during high tide was finally installed in October.

italy-venice-flooding LaPresse / Anteo Marinoni LaPresse / Anteo Marinoni / Anteo Marinoni

The network of water-filled caissons is designed to be raised within 30 minutes to create a barrier capable of resisting a water rise of three metres above normal. 

But today the system failed to swing into action because the forecast erroneously predicted a rise of only 1.2 metres above sea level.

“To activate MOSE a bigger forecast is necessary,” Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro told the Italian news agency Agi.

“We will have to review the rules of the command post.”

italy-venice-flooding LaPresse / Anteo Marinoni LaPresse / Anteo Marinoni / Anteo Marinoni

The water reached a peak of 1.87 metres above sea level on 19 November 2019, one of the highest ever recorded. Dozens of churches with UNESCO World Heritage status were damaged.

The MOSE infrastructure project began in 2003 but was plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.

The project has cost about €7 billion, versus an original estimate of two billion.

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