Venice underwater as exceptional tide sweeps through canal city

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VENICE- Venice was hit by the highest tide in more than 50 years late Tuesday, with tourists wading through flooded streets to seek shelter as a fierce wind whipped up waves in St. Mark's Square.

The exceptionally intense "acqua alta," or high waters, peaked at 1.87 meters as the flood alarm sounded across the Italian city of canals, the tide monitoring center said.

"We're currently facing an exceptionally high tide. Everyone has been mobilized to cope with the emergency," Venice's mayor Luigi Brugnaro tweeted.

Only once since records began in 1923 has the water crept even higher, reaching 1.94 meters in 1966.

As emergency services took to the canals to survey the damage, Italian media reported that a 78-year old local had been killed by electric shock as the waters poured into his home.

The coast guard laid on extra boats to serve as water ambulances.

Tables and chairs bobbed along alleyways in the dark, as locals and tourists alike waved aloft inside-out umbrellas, the water slopping over the top of even the highest waders and wellies.

Water taxis attempting to drop people off at the glamorous and historic hotels along the Grand Canal discovered the gangways had been washed away, and had to help passengers clamber through windows.

"It will be a long night," Brugnaro tweeted, saying that as the water level began to drop again "the fears of a few hours ago are now being replaced by an assessment of the damage done".

He said he would declare a state of disaster for the city.

The exceptional flood, which he blamed on climate change, was "a wound that will leave a permanent mark".

Since 2003, a massive infrastructure project has been underway to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, scandals and delays.

The plan calls for the construction of 78 floating gates to protect Venice's lagoon during high tides.

St. Mark's Square is particularly affected by the high tides, as it is located in one of the lowest parts of the city.

The vestibule of the basilica was inundated with water, and authorities planned to watch the building overnight. -AFP


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