Venice even more under water than usual

Tourists attached plastic bags to their legs or stripped off to take a dip in St Mark's Square in Venice on Sunday as rising sea waters surged through the lagoon city. High water measuring 1.49 metres above the normal level of the Adriatic came with bad weather that swept Italy at the weekend, causing floods in historic cities including Vicenza as well as the region of Tuscany 400 kilometres further south.

Venice's high water, said to be the sixth highest since 1872, flooded 70 per cent of the city. The record high water in Venice – 1.94 metres in 1966 – prompted many residents to abandon the city for new lives on the mainland.

The British tourists don't complain but the Americans can't understand how it's possible.

Venetians bombarded Facebook with moans about the city's weather forecasters, who had predicted just 1.2 metres of water on Saturday, before correcting their forecast at dawn yesterday.

"How come the people from the council were predicting 150 centimetres?" asked Matelda Bottoni, who manages a jewellery design shop off St Mark's Square, which floods when water reaches 1.05 metres. "Many residents and shopkeepers had gone to the mountains for the day and did not have time to rush back."

Matteo Secchi, a hotelier and head of a protest group, said his hotel was safe only up to 1.4 metres. "This morning the lagoon came right into the hotel entrance, and this is not clean water - you need to mop with disinfectant twice after it goes down," he said. "The British tourists don't complain but the Americans can't understand how it's possible."

The city's assessor for public works, Alessandro Maggioni, defended the weather centre, describing the high water as "exceptional and unpredictable". The Moses flood barrier system, due for completion in 2015, would have kept the city dry, he said. "Meanwhile, there is no rise in the incidence of high waters," he said.

Ms Bottoni disagreed. "My shop now has some form of flooding 100 days a year, up from 30-40 days just 10 years ago." But she does not plan to leave. "I was born and raised here and will stay here for the satisfaction of being in Venice."

Guardian News & Media