Venice left desolate and eerie as questions are asked over flood defences

15 November 2019, 13:35 | Updated: 15 November 2019, 16:14

The water rose way faster than any of us expected.

Wellingtons had seemed sufficient for our early start when the water lapped over our feet.

An hour later, it was threatening to spill over our boot tops and full fishing waders were called for.

We were glad we bought them. By mid-morning we were thigh-deep.

It had been an eerie start to the day. We were in a barely-lit St Mark's Square, a place I last remember experiencing amid a throng of tourists.

Now, it was desolate aside from a few journalists, reporters and police.

Wailing around us the sound of the sirens warning people of rising waters.

We watched as once again the water surrounded the square's extraordinary Basilica just days after the building's oldest and lowest space was flooded.

The ancient crypt where the tombs of patriarchs dating back hundreds of years was completely submerged after the highest tide in the city since the 1960s.

I was taken in, bending my head to enter the arched space where the tombs lie. Every one of them ended up under water on Tuesday and staff feared it would happen again today.

The water had been pumped out, sandbags covered every window space and I am sure there was a fair amount of praying going on.

Shortly before midday, the water reached its peak after a morning of strong winds and rain which quickly surpassed the 1.45m initially predicted.

We navigated around St Mark's Square gingerly, feeling our way, our feet and what what was below the water invisible. A mis-step could have led to full submersion.

Around us in the shops not open for business, staff and owners fought the battle to keep the water at bay.

It got in anyway and it became a battle to pump it out as the tide began to drop.

We spoke to many of them and what was perhaps surprising was the philosophical attitude of some.

"We live with the water," one shop owner told me standing in his flooded premises. "Our ancestors had floods. Floods have always been an issue for this city".

But most here observed this is 2019 and questioned why Venice's long-promised flood defence system still isn't ready.

I got the sense standing waist-deep in the murky cold water that will be a question they will now be demanding answers to.