Venice floods as Mose barrier system fails to activate

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A man walks across an arcade by a flooded St. Mark's Square on December 8, 2020 in Venice following a high tide "Alta Acqua" event following heavy rains and strong winds, and the mobile gates of the MOSE Experimental Electromechanical Module that protects the city of Venice from floods, were not lifted (Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP)

Venice’s St Mark’s Square was under water on Tuesday after the city’s newly completed system of artificial dams failed to activate.

City residents – long accustomed to perennial “acqua alta” or high water events – pulled on their rubber boots once more to deal with flooding that reached a high of 1.37 metres (4.5 feet) above sea level in the afternoon. The waters drowned St Mark’s Square – the Renaissance city’s lowest area at about one metre above sea level – and invaded the famous basilica as manyshopkeepers blocked their entrances with wood panels to keep the water out.

People living in the city centre barricaded their homes against the floodwater which they reported was “up to our knees”. A massive flood defence system called MOSE aimed at protecting Venice’s lagoon during high tide was finally installed in October. The network of water-filled caissons is designed to be raised within 30 minutes to create a barrier capable of resisting a water rise of three metres above normal. But on Tuesday the system failed to swing into action because the forecast erroneously predicted a rise of only 1.2 metres (four feet) above sea level.

[Residents of flooded Italian City of Venice to get ₵27,000 in compensation]

A man walks across a flooded canal on December 8, 2020 in Venice following a high tide “Alta Acqua” event following heavy rains and strong winds, and the mobile gates of the MOSE Experimental Electromechanical Module that protects the city of Venice from floods, were not lifted (Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP)

“To activate MOSE a bigger forecast is necessary,” Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro told the Italian news agency Agi. “We will have to review the rules of the command post.”

The system has been activated several times this year, successfully preventing high tides from swamping the lagoon city. Though high tides are a normal occurrence in Venice, they have been getting higher in recent years – with last November’s historic water levels causing devastation. 

The water reached a peak of 1.87 metres (six feet) above sea level on November 12, 2019, one of the highest ever recorded. Dozens of churches with UNESCO World Heritage status were damaged as well as homes and businesses. 

The MOSE infrastructure project began in 2003 but was plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays. The project cost about seven billion euros ($8 billion), versus an original estimate of two billion.

Source: The local