Sea water powered by a fierce scirocco wind laid siege to Venice for a second day today, flooding basements, destroying domestic appliances and shopkeepers' merchandise and bringing the city to a halt.
Yesterday's flood, which reached 1.56 metres, was the highest in 22 years. Today the Piazza San Marco and much of the rest of the city were still under water, and sales of anglers' waders and wellingtons continued to boom.
The city fire brigade answered 135 emergency call-outs to help residents empty flooded cellars, to pump out stairwells and deal with chimney pots threatened by the strong wind. Today the city's government appealed to the central government for financial help to get through the crisis.
The city awoke on yesterday with the “acqua alta” (high water) alarm ringing throughout the city but winds were light and the flood was expected to be no higher than those which have struck the city and inundated its centre no less than eight times since 28 October. But in defiance of the forecasts the wind suddenly strengthened, the water poured in and by 10.45 had reached the 1.56 metre mark.
Venetians, long used to the phenomenon, rushed down to their basements to remove valuables at risk. Lisa di Cataldo, a pensioner, born and raised in Venice who lives in the Castello section, said, “The water came up at great speed as I was watching, it poured into the cellar and came within 20 centimetres of knocking out our new boiler. It came in very fast because the scirocco wind was so strong. The person who lives opposite had her fridge and television destroyed by the water.
“Everybody in the calle (lane) was busy cleaning up as the level began to drop, you have to go at it quickly because the salt water is so destructive. At the end of the calle there was a shop run by Indians who had all their merchandise out on the street. Not being Venetians clearly they were not prepared for the force of the water. I went to buy bread but the baker said he had been unable to bake because the water had got into his oven.”
Aggravating the situation was a strike by the crews of the vaporetti, the public ferries that keep the city moving. “The strike made things worse,” commented Giorgio Candus, an architect who lives five minutes from Piazza San Marco. “People who had intended to leave couldn't get away.”
If the plan to save the city from high water by means of flood gates, known as the Moses project, had been implemented according to schedule, this week's floods would never have happened, according to Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the consortium that is building the gates: the original date for finishing the multi-billion euro project was 2007. But due to delays in government finance the completion date recently slipped further, from 2012 to 2014.
Lisa di Cataldo commented, “Everyone is complaining because the government has spent so much money on Moses and they ought to have it finished by now.”
Mr Candus, whose home was unaffected, was phlegmatic about the flood. “The media exaggerated the whole thing,” he said. “They called it a dramatic event, but there was nothing dramatic about it: the water just comes up then it goes down, that's all.”