Venice hit by severe flooding
The historic Italian city of Venice has suffered its worst flooding in 22 years.
The sea level rose 1.56m above normal, meaning residents and tourists alike were wading through knee-high water around some of the city's most famous sites, including St Mark's Square.
A change in the direction of the wind helped the "acqua alta" (high water) water start backing down from a high of 1.56 metres (5 feet, 2 inches), the tide monitoring centre said.
Authorities had warned that the sea lapping at the lagoon city threatened to rise to 1.60 metres, a 30-year high mark, and warned residents and tourists to stay indoors.
"It's an exceptional 'acqua alta,' and unless you absolutely have to, don't go out," Venice mayor Massimo Cacciari said in a statement.
Nearly all the streets of the city, including the central tourist district, were already under water by mid-morning -- the famous Piazza San Marco by 80 centimetres.
Workers set up elevated walkways as sirens and loudspeaker announcements reinforced the alert. Under a new system, warnings and updates were also being sent out by text message.
Residents were encouraged to stay indoors, while tourists thinking of visiting the city were advised to reconsider their plans.
Venice Mayor Massimo Cacciari told residents to avoid leaving their homes and advised anyone thinking of going to Venice to "think again" as the city coped with one of the highest tides in its history, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Observers said the city's St. Mark's Square was under almost 3 feet of water and many of the pontoon bridges connecting homes to sidewalks floated off, leaving many residents stranded in their houses, the news agency said.
The flooding also coincided with a weekend transport strike which affected the vaporetto ferries.
The governor of Veneto province, of which Venice is a part, criticised transport workers for choosing such a bad time to strike.
“I’d like to give them a medal for their sense of responsibility,” Giancarlo Galan said with heavy sarcasm.
The city has seen repeated flooding in recent years, threatened by rising sea levels.
Venice was flooded 50 times between 1993 and 2002, with the worst incident on November 4, 1966, when the city was submerged by 1.94 metres of water amid catastrophic flooding throughout Italy.
More recently, in February 1986, levels reached 1.58 metres above normal. The last time the waters passed 1.60 metres was in 1979 when they reached 1.66 metres.
The city has for years been wrestling with the problems posed by the threat of rising sea levels. In March, local authorities confirmed they were looking at a scheme to raise the city's buildings to meet the problem.
Under Operation "Rialto", local officials and engineers were looking at using piston-supported-poles placed at the bottom of each structure to lift buildings by up to to a metre.
They calculated it would take around a month per building if each structure was raised by eight centimetres (3.14 inches) a day.
In April 2007, the United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO warned that Venice was one of its designated World Heritage sites that was threatened by climate change.