Sunday 2 June 2019 dawned like a perfect day. From the rooftop terrace, the Lagoon…
Bad weather causes floods (acqua alta) in Venice during November every year, Venetians have learnt to live with it. We did had an uncanny feeling about last night, but it was a surprise when the sirens sounded four times, annoucing acqua granda > 170 cm.
People rushed and tried to save as many belongings as they could from the first floor of their homes and shops. At 10:50 pm, the high tide reached level 187 cm at Punta della Dogana, and obviously more in some areas of Venice and the Lagoon: Up to 197 cm, as my uncle says. If that’s the case, this flooding is worse than in 1966.
Speaking with people who witnessed the acqua granda of 1966, they stressed how surprising the flooding of 12 November came. The electricity and phone lines at the office predicting the sea levels (Previsioni maree) broke down, so updates still arrive at irregular intervals.
The water in the Piazza never went down below 120 cm for the past 36 hours, another sign that the maree (tides) have become confused.
So what happened in Venice last night and today? This time, it’s a dire combination of libeccio (southwesterly wind, causing the rivers discharching into the Lagoon to swell), scirocco (southerly wind, pressing sea water into the Lagoon), and even bora (northerly wind, which feels icy cold and blows so strong that vaporetti were destroyed and the waves became pure disaster). Storms like these happen more often as the climate changes and also caused heavy rain in other parts of Italy and in Dalmatia.
When storms like these hit a Lagoon weakened by deep water canals, bringing the floods directly into the city (direttissima), Venice is struck by disaster. At the same time, the Lagoon soil and some islands are slowly sinking (due to subsidenza): Along the quays fortified by concrete and in the area around the inlets where the Mose barrier is installed, the ground sinks up to 3 cm per year!
The crypt and nartex of the Basilica were flooded and all night long, people were working to empty it from the salt water with buckets. For now, we can’t say what will happen: Salt water attacks the facades. It climbs up the walls and penetrates inside. Its effects can’t be seen immediately when still wet but in 1-2 weeks, we will notice the damage: more porous bricks, white lacings and a rotten smell all over.
Lina witnessed both incidents, 1966 and 2019. What makes me thougtful is that she says that 2019 WAS worse: 53 years ago, Venice was so much stronger and fitter to survive.
Today like in 1966, Venice was saved from her worst fate, being washed away by an infuriated sea, by the stone barriers called Murazzi, built on Pellestrina between 1714 and 1768 to counter the rising sea levels after the end of the Little Ice Age.
The murazzi are huge stone barriers raising and shielding Pellestrina from the open sea: Inaugurated in 1767, they were built to shield Venice for the next 500 years (or so the engineers of the Republic of Venice envisaged). They are the only protection Venice has, to this day. These barriers work and have saved Venice from being TOTALLY SUBMERGED, today and in 1966.36