The floods in Venice are damaging St. Mark’s Basilica

(CNN) – It was an event that never had a purpose again.

They were tested for the first time under successful conditions, with their successful installation keeping the historic center dry for the first time in historical history. This meant that the devastating floods of 2019 – which caused more than a billion dollars in damage to the city – must be a thing of the past.

In the two months since its introduction, the barrier system traditionally known as MOSE at the beginning of the flood season has been successfully activated five times – including last week for a three-day period.

But on Tuesday, the railings were not raised and the city flooded it again.

“Terrible situation”

Venetian flood

The entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica suffered “severe” damage

Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Images

St. Mark’s Square, one of the lowest parts of the city, was hit particularly hard, with a deep thigh of water.

Claudio Vernier, owner of the Al Todaro bar and gelateria, and president of the Associazione Piazza San Marco, told CNN that “this is a dramatic and unexpected event and we thought we had left it behind.”

“We lived with great anger,” he said.

“It is economically and morally harmful and could have been avoided. We know that MOSE exists, we know it works and it has not been used.”

The 11th-century Byzantine St. Mark’s Basilica suffered “serious damage,” according to Carlo Alberto Tessarin, on the council of St. Mark’s prosecutors overseeing the church.

Il Gazzettino told a local newspaper that they were “in a terrible situation” and that the basilica “is no longer able to withstand this constant flood”.

“We are dramatically under water, the damage is severe,” he said.

The church is still recovering from last year’s flood, whose salt water has digested the marble-clad interiors. Even when the flood has dried, the marble absorbs the salt, which can spread for up to seven meters, breaking down the stone in the process.

“The basilica is one of the most important works of art in the world and will be destroyed,” Vernier told CNN.

Permission to raise limits

Venetian flood

The water was high in St. Mark’s Square

Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Images

Until December 2021, MOSE is formally in the negotiation phase and as such falls under the jurisdiction of the Italian state.

When completed, the inspections will be handed over to the Venetian authorities, but in the next 12 months, each time they expect a tide, they will have to ask for the obstacles to be activated by the national government.

The lowest parts of the city, such as St. Mark’s Square, are barely a meter higher than the average tidal level. This means they start flooding when the tide is barely 90 centimeters (35 inches) higher than average. The crypt of the basilica flows just 65 centimeters.

Last year’s devastating floods were 187 centimeters (77 inches) above average.

When city authorities take responsibility, the limits will rise when the tide reaches an average of 110 centimeters (43 inches) – this level already sees 12% of the city under water.

But while in the testing phase, it will only be activated when the tide is projected to be 130 centimeters (51 inches) above average – by which time almost half of Venice is already under water. By this time, although it may be a centimeter or two in the higher parts of the city, St. Mark’s Square is already on its knees.

Inaccurate weather forecast

Venetian flood

The water almost obscured the raised walkways

Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the tide level reached an average of 138 centimeters (54 inches) – well above the level at which the limits should be turned on.

But the weather forecast predicted only a 125-centimeter tide – just two inches below the level at which the limits would automatically rise. The system was not activated.

As the weather worsened, city authorities sent alerts to residents warning them to prepare for the flood. Raising the barriers will take several hours, and by the time it was clear how high the tide would be, it was too late to take action.

In that case, half the city was under water and also reached the raised walkways of St. Mark’s Square, which are usually cantilevered at lower flood levels.

Vernier is convinced that this was a bad decision even then.

“Italy currently has historically bad and unpredictable weather,” he said, arguing that the authorities should have taken precautions to remove the obstacles.

“They made their decision based on the weather forecast, and no weather forecast is perfect. Five centimeters (two inches) can make a huge difference and cause huge damage – and we saw that yesterday.”

In the hope of the best, in preparation for the worst

Venetian flood

St. Mark’s Square was impassable

Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Images

On Tuesday, however, he poured most of the afternoon off the floor, lifting furniture and belongings, and popping up after about two inches (barely an inch) of water got into his apartment.

“While that doesn’t sound like much, it means you have to lift everything up first and make sure there’s nothing on the ground,” he said.

“Then you have to wait for the water to come in, you have to wait for it to go out, and then you have to clean it inside for hours – you have to clean the apartment over and over again.

“Then you wait for it to dry, and only then do you let your belongings down. You basically lose an entire day just to be in your house.”

However, Fagarazzi is still a believer in MOSE. “I am 100% confident, but it will not stop climate change and it will not solve all of Venice’s problems,” he said.

“We were hoping [the events of last year] it never happens again, but since Mose hasn’t been finalized yet, we knew it could happen. Venetians must hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. “

“We couldn’t handle another”

Venetian flood

The shops were closed as people struggled to find their way around the city

Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Images

Valeria Duflot, co-founder of Venezia Autentica, agrees.

“Acqua alta [flooding] it has always been a part of life in Venice, “he told CNN.” While events like yesterday are not fun – they cause damage and waste time as we have to lift everything off the floor – the Venetians know how to deal with this.

“What we couldn’t handle is another extreme flood, as we saw last year.

“But since MOSE works, even elevated to 130 inches, we shouldn’t see that again.”

But he emphasizes that it is not just flood limits that are needed.

“Beyond the well-known phenomenon of local community displacement, mass tourism is recognizing that it is exacerbating the effects of climate change, and we need to work urgently to transform it.”

Vernier says when MOSE was designed decades ago, it was estimated to be raised when sea levels are 110 centimeters (43 inches) above average – which happened several times a year at that moment.

“Now, with the worsening climate crisis, the water level is always higher and we see this kind of tide 20 times a year,” he said.

– What will happen in 30 years?

The struggle for control

Even higher areas of the city, like the main road Strada Nuova, were flooded

Even higher areas of the city, like the main road Strada Nuova, were flooded

Julia Buckley

As more bad weather is expected in the coming days, flood barriers have been raised overnight.

A tide of 123 centimeters (48 inches) was recorded on Wednesday morning, 135 centimeters (53 inches) was forecast for Thursday and 140 centimeters (53 inches) for Friday. MOSE is activated in both cases.

In the meantime, the Venetian authorities are looking for more say in the decision to raise the barriers.

He added that there is an urgent need to “shorten the chain of command”.