Flood barriers were not activated after forecasting high tide of only 1.2 metres.
Photograph: Andrea Merola/EPA
Venice has been hit by high tides of up to 1.5 metres (5ft) after its flood barrier system was not activated as a result of mistaken forecasts.
Weather bulletins had predicted high tide, or acqua alta, rising to 1.2 metres – lower than the 1.3 metres level at which the 78 mobile barriers of the defensive system, called Mose, would usually be activated.
By the time the water had entered the lagoon on Tuesday morning, completely flooding the narthex of St Mark’s Basilica, it was too late for the system to take effect.
Tides were expected to reach 1.45 metres at about 16.40 local time, although residents estimate the water level to be as high as 1.5 metres.
Photograph: Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Image
“The circumstances are really bad as we weren’t expecting it,” said Matteo Secchi, who leads the activist group Venessia.com. “It’s frustrating as we thought that with Mose this kind of thing wouldn’t happen any more, but instead we’re back to square one. It’s the same old problem.”
Carlo Alberto Tesserin, the head procurator of St Mark’s Basilica, told the Italian media: “The situation is terrible, we’re under water in a devastating way.”
He said the narthex of the 1,000-year-old cathedral was completely flooded and if the water rises any higher “the internal chapels will also go under”.
Secchi said that bars, restaurants and shops had been affected, however the extent of the damage is not yet known.
Photograph: Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Images