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Venice is underwater after plan to protect it from floods never got finished

Venice is underwater after plan to protect it from floods never got finished
A room in the flooded Gritti Palace is pictured during an exceptional “Alta Acqua” (high tide) on November 12, 2019, in Venice. [Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images]

All hell broke loose in Venice last night, as over six feet of water flooded the city. Tourists waded out of hotels; residents desperately tried to pump out water; passengers climbed out of boat-taxi windows because the gangways had been washed away. The mayor called for a state of emergency as St. Mark’s Square, which sits at one of the lowest points in the city, turned into a 5-foot-deep swimming pool.

The cause is a high tide, the highest since a 1966 flood raised waters by 6.3 feet. There was a plan to prevent this sort of flooding: The Moses project, a multi-billion-dollar flood protection system with dozens of sea barriers meant to protect the city, has been under construction since the early aughts, but it’s been plagued with delays and corruption, including the 2014 arrest of the then-mayor and 30 others on embezzlement charges. As you’ve gathered, the Moses system is not yet operational. The tide peaked at 74 inches, and it surged again Wednesday to 63 inches.

As Venice’s mayor pointed out to the New York Times, “We can’t get the pumps to work because they are underwater.” The crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica was under three feet of water despite pumping efforts.

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