Is Venice Sinking? Worst Floods in a Decade Swamp Three-Quarters of the City

The world-famous Italian city of Venice is facing its worst flooding in more than a decade, with three-quarters of the historic settlement inundated by high water levels.

A large portion of Italy has been struggling with flooding and strong winds in recent days, with four people killed by falling trees. In Venice, the water level rose by more than 5 feet on Monday before receding.

The lagoon city is no stranger to flooding and is generally hit around four times each year by the Acqua Alta—meaning "high water"—due to high tides or strong winds. But in recent years, rising sea levels linked to climate change have led to the specter of permanent submersion.

This week's flooding surpassed the usual level, rising above the raised walkways installed for residents and tourists to keep their feet dry when the water comes in. The floodwaters reached their highest point since December 2008, The Guardian reported.

Officials were forced to remove the walkways and even close the city's water bus system, though the vehicles remain in operation in the islands around the edges of the lagoon. Schools were also closed on Monday and Tuesday.

CNN said tourists and residents were left wading through water, which at points reached waist height. Shopkeepers and restaurateurs desperately tried to barricade their properties to hold back the flood, using buckets to bail water into the swollen canals.

St Mark's Square—the epicenter of tourist bustle in the city—became a lake, while tourists snaked across walkways in front of the Doge's Palace and other famous locations. CNN noted that the Venice Marathon went ahead despite the flooding, though competitors had to deal with ankle-deep water.

Tourists walk in the flooded streets during a high-water alert in Venice, Italy, on October 29. MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Venice has a plan, nicknamed Project Moses, to stop such extensive flooding, but the construction of a series of underwater steel barriers has lagged amid spiraling costs and corruption. When the tide reaches 43 inches—which occurs around four times each year, usually between October and December—the barriers would come up.

Luigi Brugnaro, the city's mayor, said he was attempting to speak with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte regarding the need to complete the project.

The regional governor of Veneto suggested flooding could yet get worse, and maybe even reach the levels seen in the infamous 1966 events that hit around 6.3 feet in Venice and left thousands homeless.

Venice, which hosts around 30 million visitors each year, is slowly losing its battle against the sea. Modern satellite technology has shown that water levels are rising in the lagoon, threatening to permanently submerge some areas of the city, Live Science has reported. The lagoon has an average depth of just over 3 feet, meaning it is especially susceptible to seasonal and more long-term variation.

At the same time, some building foundations are actually sinking. In the past, authorities would pump groundwater from beneath Venice, but this caused parts of the city to settle lower into the earth, exacerbating the dangers of flooding and rising sea levels.

Nearby land reclamation works, an increase in motorized shipping—including enormous cruise ships—and mismanagement of the waterways around the lagoon have all contributed to faster-flowing, larger and more damaging swells, according to The Guardian.

As such, the frequency and scale of flooding have worsened as the city progresses through the 21st century. Between 2000 and 2013, for instance, the city recorded eight highest-category floods—more than in the previous 50 years combined.