Water starts rising again in St. Mark square in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. High tidal waters returned to Venice on Saturday, four days after the city experienced its worst flooding in 50 years. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

St. Mark's Square reopens in Venice, but water remains high

November 16, 2019 - 5:33 am

VENICE, Italy (AP) — Tourists and residents were allowed back into St. Mark’s Square in Venice on Saturday, a day after it was closed due to exceptionally high tidal waters that swept through most of the lagoon city’s already devastated center.

Despite sunny skies, the city remained on edge due to possibly more wind-propelled high tidal waters during the weekend. The city was struck Tuesday by devastating floods, the worst in decades.

Water was rising again in St. Mark’s Square and the forecast for Sunday was worse. The tide peaked at 1.10 meters (3 feet, 7 inches) above sea level on Saturday at noon, leaving St. Mark's inundated with more than 20 centimeters (8 inches) of water.

Late Tuesday, water levels in Venice reached 1.87 meters (6 feet, 1 inch) above sea level, the highest flooding since 1966.

On Saturday, tourists sloshed through St. Mark’s Square and strolled across it on raised walkways.

Luigi Brugnaro, the city’s mayor, estimated damages from the flooding would reach at least 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion). He said a final tally of the damage to homes, businesses, stores and the city’s rich cultural heritage would be done once the city dries out, according to Italian media.

“Venice is once again being watched by the world and it needs to show that it can succeed and pick itself back up,” the mayor said in an interview with the Gazzettino and Messaggero newspapers.

Brugnaro said Venice was setting up programs to help cover damages sustained by individuals and businesses, noting that families could expect up to 5,000 euros ($5,500) and businesses up to 20,000 euros ($22,000) in aid. He said businesses and individuals suffering even more serious losses could possibly qualify for aid covering up to 70% of damages.

On Thursday, the government declared a state of emergency, approving 20 million euros ($22.1 million) to help Venice repair the most urgent damage.

Built on a series of tiny islets amid a system of canals, Venice is particularly vulnerable to a combination of rising sea levels due to climate change coupled with the city’s well-documented sinking into the mud. The sea level in Venice is 10 centimeters (4 inches) higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the city’s tide office.

The flooding has left Italians exasperated at the incompletion of the city’s long-delayed Moses flood defense project. Moses consists of a series of moveable barriers in the lagoon that can be raised when high winds and high tides combine to threaten to send “acqua alta,’’ as the uniquely Venetian phenomenon is known, rushing across the city.

Completion of the multibillion-euro project, under construction since 2003, has been delayed by corruption scandals, cost overruns and opposition from environmentalists worried about its effects on Venice’s delicate lagoon ecosystem.

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Cain Burdeau reported from Castelbuono, Sicily.

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