Venice has been affected since Tuesday, November 12 by an "acqua alta" (high tide) unprecedented for 53 years. The rising waters reached 1.87 meters and surprised the tourists on St. Mark's Square. It is the second highest tide recorded in the Italian city since the beginning of the surveys in 1923, behind that of 1.94 meters observed on November 4, 1966.

The phenomenon has caused at least one death, according to Italian media: a 78-year-old Venetian died electrocuted in his flooded home.

"We are facing a tide more than exceptional, everyone is mobilized to handle the emergency," tweeted the mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro. "We need everyone to help us cope with what is clearly the effects of climate change," said the mayor, who went by boat to the famous St. Mark's Square in the late evening.

A level of 1.87 meters which does not mean that the city of the Doges is immersed under nearly two meters of water. It is indeed necessary to subtract from this height the average level of the city which is between one meter and 1.30 meter.

The water nevertheless rose high enough to overwhelm the cafe terraces, carrying tables and chairs along the alleyways. As the footbridges of the historic hotels along the Grand Canal were swept by the waves as well, the customers of the water taxis were reduced to entering the establishments through the windows.

In the sumptuous Gritti Palace, where Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton descended, the waters swamped the bar and the velvet sofas and threatened tapestries and bound books.

Floating dykes

A rare event too, the vestibule (narthex) of St. Mark's Basilica, jewel of the Serenissima, was flooded on Tuesday. The procurator of the building, Pierpaolo Campostrini, organized watch tours in the night to monitor the rising waters.

Venice is regularly affected by the phenomenon of "acque alte", tides particularly pronounced tides that cause the submersion of a greater or lesser part of the island urban area.

The acqua alta often floods the lower parts of the city, including St. Mark's Square, and can be amplified by the sirocco, as was the case on the evening of Tuesday.

In order to protect the city from this calamity, which alters its artistic heritage a little more each time, the MOSE project (acronym for Experimental Electromechanical Module, and meaning Moses in Italian) has been under construction since 2003, but the additional costs and poor workmanship have led to many delays.

The project involves the installation of 78 floating dikes that would rise to close the lagoon in the event of a rise in the Adriatic Sea.

With AFP