VENICE – Venice was hit Sunday by a record third exceptional tide in the same week while other parts of Italy struggled with a series of weather woes, from rain-swollen rivers to high winds to an out-of-season avalanche.
Stores and museums in Venice were mostly closed in the hardest-hit area around St. Mark's Square, but tourists donned high rubber boots or even hip waders to witness and photograph the spectacle.
Most were disappointed when officials closed the historic square as winds rippled across the rising waters. The doors of the famed St. Mark’s Basilica were securely shut to the public, an authorities took precautions -- stacking sandbags in canal-side windows - to prevent salt-laden water from entering the crypt again.
Venice's Tide Office said the peak tide of nearly 5 feet hit just after 1 p.m. but a weather front off the coast blocked southerly winds from the Adriatic Sea from pushing the tide to the predicted level of 5 feet, 2 inches. By early evening, the level was less than three feet.
Still it marked the third time since Tuesday night's 6 foot, 2 inch flood -- the worst in 53 years - that water levels in Venice had reached nearly 5 feet. Since records began in 1872, that level had never been reached even twice in one year, let alone three times in one week.
While Venetians had a bit of relief, days of heavy rainfall and snowfall elsewhere in Italy swelled rivers to worrisome levels, triggered an avalanche in the Alps and saw dramatic rescues of people unable to flee rising waters.
In Venice, many store owners in the swanky area around St. Mark's completely emptied their shops, while others put their wares as high as possible and counted on automatic pumping systems to keep the water at bay. In one luxury boutique, employees used water vacuums and big squeegee mops to keep the brackish lagoon waters from advancing.
Venice'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. They say Venice is both sinking into the mud and facing rising sea levels due to climate change.
Luca D'Acunto and his girlfriend Giovanna Maglietta surveyed the rising water from a bridge, wondering how to reach their nearby hotel in their colorful yet inadequate rubber boots.
"We made the reservation this week before the floods and had paid already, so we came," said D'Acunto, a 28-year-old from Naples. "Instead of a romantic trip, we'll have an adventurous one."
Most museums were closed as a precaution, but the Correr Museum, which overlooks St. Mark'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 were deployed to assist as needed. Young Venetian volunteers in rubber boots have also showed up at key sites, including the city's Music Conservatory, to help save precious manuscripts from the invading salt water.
SOURCE: TRAVEL WEEKLY USA