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Three quarters of Venice flooded by exceptional high tide

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Three quarters of Venice flooded by exceptional high tide

Strong winds push water into historic Italian lagoon city in worst flooding in a decade

A couple walks in the flooded Saint Mark’s Square during a seasonal high tide in Venice.
St Mark’s Square in Venice was flooded during an exceptionally high seasonal tide. Photograph: Manuel Silvestri/Reuters

Venice has been inundated by an exceptional high tide which put three-quarters of the lagoon city under water. Large swathes of the rest of Italy have also experienced flooding and heavy winds which toppled trees, killing four people.

Tourists and residents donned high boots to navigate the streets on Monday after strong winds raised the water level 156cm – more than 5 feet – before receding. Water levels exceeded the raised walkways normally erected in flooded areas of the city, forcing their removal. Transport officials also closed the water-bus system, except to outlying islands, due to the emergency.

Venice frequently floods when high winds push in water from the lagoon but Monday was exceptional, with levels peaking at the highest seen since December 2008, according to statistics.

The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, said a series of underwater barriers being erected in the lagoon would have prevented the situation. The project, nicknamed Moses, is long overdue, having been beset by cost overruns and corruption scandals.

Brugnaro said he had asked to talk to Italy’s prime minster, Giuseppe Conte, to underline the urgency of the project, which would raise barriers when the tide reaches 109cm (43 inches). That happens, on average, four times a year in Venice.

Residents and businesses typically reinforce their doors with metal or wooden panels to prevent water from entering but, this time, photos on social media showed shop owners using water pumps to try to protect their wares.

Much of Italy is under flood alert due to heavy rains, a problem exacerbated by a lack of maintenance of the country’s many river beds. High winds toppled trees that killed passersby in three accidents in Naples and Lazio.

Officials closed major tourist attractions in Rome, including the Colosseum and Roman Forum, early due to heavy rains.

Veneto regional governor, Luca Zaia, says flooding this week could reach the levels of the 1966 flood which struck Venice and Florence. In a message on Instagram, he closed schools in the region for a second day on Tuesday.