VENICE, Italy (AP) – Venetians braced Sunday for the prospect of another exceptional tide in a season that is setting records.
City officials shut down St. Markâ€™s Square, removing elevated walkways and turning back curious onlookers. Tourists with scheduled departures rushed to grab the last water taxis to get to the mainland Sunday before service was interrupted in anticipation of the high tide.
Officials are forecasting a 1.6-meter (5 foot, 2 inch) surge of water Sunday through the lagoon city. That comes after Tuesdayâ€™s 1.87-meter flood, the worst in 53 years, followed by high tide of 1.54 meters on Friday.
Those two events mark the first time since records began in 1872 that two floods topped 1.5 meters in the same year. Sunday could see the record-breaking prospect of three tides over that mark in just one week alone.
The cityâ€™s mayor has put the flooding damage at hundreds of millions of euros and Italian officials have declared a state of emergency for the area.
But tourists continued to arrive, despite the prospects of another day of surging water. Knee-high boots became too short to keep dry and some people who didnâ€™t have fishermanâ€™s hip waders resorted to tying plastic garbage bags high up on their legs.
Luca Dâ€™Acunto and his girlfriend Giovanna Maglietta surveyed the rising water from a bridge, wondering how to make their way to their nearby hotel. They both wore colorful disposable rubber boots, but they came up only up to their knees.
â€œWe made the reservation this week before the floods and had paid already, so we came,â€ said Dâ€™Acunto, a 28-year-old from Naples. â€œInstead of a romantic trip, weâ€™ll have an adventurous one.â€
As the tide nudged up to above 1.32 meters (4 feet, 4 inches), the doors on St. Markâ€™s Basilica, which has been damaged by the relentless flooding, remained securely shut. The Venetian newspaper, Il Gazzettino, reported that sandbags had been placed in the windows of the crypt to prevent water from flooding in again.
Most museums were closed as a precaution, but the Correr Museum, which overlooks St. Markâ€™s Square and explores the art and history of Venice, remained open. Tourists enjoyed a Venetian Spritz – a colorful aperitif with an Italian bitter and Prosecco – as the waters rose.
Officials said 280 civil protection volunteers from throughout the region were deployed in the city to assist as needed.
Young Venetian volunteers wearing rubber boots have also showed up at key sites, including the cityâ€™s Music Conservatory, to help save precious manuscripts from the invading salt water.
The flooding has raised renewed debates about the cityâ€™s Moses flood defense project, a corruption-riddled underwater barrier system that is still not operational after more than 16 years of construction and at least 5 billion euros of public funding. It was supposed to be working by 2011.
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