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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Flooding In Venice May Spell Calamity

VENICE -- High-tide flooding on a scale never before seen in the City of the Doges is proving a new attraction for tourists, but for Venetians it revives fears that their city is inexorably sinking into a watery grave.


For two weeks, the same routine has been played out each day.


At dawn, the siren sounds. Tramps rush to pack up their bundles, merchants move their wares to safety and hotels lay out gangplanks in dining rooms where tourists are due to have breakfast.


Parents prepare to take their children to school, which in these circumstances means carrying them on their shoulders.


In small waves, the water comes in from the lagoon, glides over Saint Mark's Square and begins to spurt out from sewer drainholes.


Within two hours the city is flooded, sometimes up to 140 centimeters above the average level.


The water begins to recede at about noon, leaving bags of rubbish and other debris in its wake. But the tide will pick up again in the afternoon.


The high tides have lasted for 13 days -- longer than ever previously recorded. High-waters here in 1996 have already broken the record for the century: the water level has reached or surpassed the alert level -- 80 centimeters above normal.


No one goes outside anymore without high rubber boots, and as a result the boot retailers have seen record sales.


But while tourists may find the whole business hilarious, many of Venice's nearly 70,000 inhabitants are becoming increasingly worried about the scale of the "aqua alta" winter high tide, which was once a festive event.


"When I was a child, such a high water only happened once in a while. We would stay at home and watch the water from the window. We didn't have boots, we didn't need them," a woman told an Italian newspaper.


But a study by the Environment Ministry which warned that Venice may be permanently under water within 60 years, has sparked plenty of talk in the city.


The report on climate change resulting from the so-called "greenhouse effect" caused by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity, said the city could sink under water due to a combination of rising sea levels and the sinking of the land on which it stands.


"In 15 years, I have never seen a meteorological situation and tides as complex in duration as well as frequency," said Paolo Canestrelli, the engineer in charge at the Tide Center.


Venice mayor Massimo Cacciari is following the situation but says there are adequate defenses. That assertion has been denied by a recent municipal study.


However, some residents still are trying to look on the bright side. One young man said: "The floods make people nicer. Venice's usual hysteria is replaced with more solidarity."