An extraordinary flood yesterday put Piazza San Marco under 16 inches of water and covered 80% of the rest of the city. This was a Big One, with tides cresting at 137 centimeters, only 3 centimeters shy of an official flood emergency. The Adriatic did, in fact, reach the magic 140 centimeter mark at the dikes south of the Lido. (See an earlier Veniceblog post explaining what happens at various stages of flooding.)
Here's a link to a photo from the Associated Press. If anyone in Venice has photos of the flood, please send them to me.
At times, according to various press accounts, the water surged over the passerelle, the raised wooden sidewalks that are provisionally set in place to keep the city alive during otherwise crippling floods. Someone was spotted in a kayaking through the Piazza. The transportation authority, ACTV, actually stopped operating for an hour during the day, adding to the chaos. Shopkeepers have, no surprise, reported losses, but the real concern is damage that these waters can cause to fragile structures and the unspeakably precious art inside them.
Near the Lido inlet of the Adriatic, a huge motonave (passenger ferry) slammed into a briccola (wooden channel marker) and the passenger dock at Punto Sabbioni, when a powerful sirocco wind overcame the pilot's control.
Before this enormous flood, Venice had been experiencing smaller acqua altas for the last 5 days, as it has been buffeted by a persistent storm system.
As of this posting, the floods have mostly receded, and you can again move through the Piazza without a naval escort, though predictions are for the water to reach 110 centimeters at 1120AM. That's annoying, but manageable, and isn't expected to last long throughout the day.
A special cell phone system has been set up for Venetians, whereby typing the word "marea" (tide) into an SMS text message and sending it to the phone number 041/2411996 , the latest tidal predictions will be sent back.