Venice – The biggest Acqua Alta since 1966
November 12th 2019 Around 10pm.
Comfortably and cozily sitting on my sofa, I was in my house in the Venetian countryside, relaxing, ready to watch something on Netflix.
I spent all day running around looking for a pair of fisherman waders to wear in anticipation of the high tide, the acqua alta, which was due the day after in Venice. I had to go into the city to cater for a big dinner and I did not want to get there unprepared.
It was supposed to be an above average high tide, but not so bad that you could not go around your business, if wearing the right rubber boots.
Well…..that was what it was supposed to be!
By 10.20pm I started spotting worried posts on Facebook and Twitter – the tide was coming in fast and much much higher than the forecast.
By 10.30pm it was obvious that this was no average tide. I started writing to all my Venetian friends to understand how bad things were. It was so bad that even the siren system usually used to let people know how high the tide is, did not have enough tones!
And then, in a matter of minutes, it was immediately clear it was Tragic, not bad.
On Facebook by 10.38pm I saw the tide reached 180 cm, that is only 14 cm less than the famous ”Acqua Granda” in 1966, which literally submerged the entire city and caused huge destruction and havoc! And it was still rising!
The first photos and video of what was tragically happening started to appear.
My heart was in a pure sense of anguish: I could not stop feeling sick for all my friends, their homes and their businesses. Most of them are artisans and restaurant owners.
The wind outside my house was howling like crazy; the rain was whipping my windows; the videos on the net kept showing huge waves blowing into the embankments and the canals of Venice! The posts of my friends were permeated with desperation and worry.
By 11pm the tide reached 187 cm, the second highest tide ever, after the big one of 1966.
Practically at least 85% of the city would be submerged.
This meant every single home and business on the ground floor would have at least 80 cm of water indoors.
No barrier can prepare you for this!
My friend Alessia Fuga, who is a bead maker in Murano, but lives in the countryside, was at home, her heart breaking: she knew what would expect her in the morning when she would finally manage to go to her atelier.
I did not even dare call my other friend Stefania Giannici of Paperoowl: her shop is in the historic centre, in one of the lowest part of the city. She makes paper jewellery. I knew earlier on, she tried to put all the material and creations to safety, but I also knew that, with a huge tide like that, there was nothing really she could do.
My thoughts went to my friends with various restaurants: can you just imagine what damages water can create to fridges, ovens, dishwashers and food?
By midnight my Facebook and Twitter feeds were flooded (forgive the pun) with video, photos and comments of the incredible event which in a matter of a few hours took place in Venice: a disaster!
But what really happened?
Acqua Alta e Acqua Granda in Venice
First let’s understand what is a normal acqua alta:
Acqua alta is the term used in Venice and Veneto region for the exceptional tide peaks that occur periodically in the northern Adriatic Sea. The peaks reach their maximum in the Venetian Lagoon, where they cause partial flooding of Venice and Chioggia; flooding also occurs elsewhere around the northern Adriatic, for instance at Grado and Trieste, but much less often and to a lesser degree.
The phenomenon occurs mainly between autumn and spring, when the astronomical tides are reinforced by the prevailing seasonal winds that hamper the usual reflux. The main winds involved are the sirocco, which blows northbound along the Adriatic Sea, and the bora, which has a specific local effect due to the shape and location of the Venetian lagoon.
So, you will say, you are used to this – why were Venetians not prepared? What was different this time?
As my friend Iris of La Venessiana wrote:
What happened in Venice on 12th November?
This time, it was the dire combination of Libeccio (southwesterly wind, causing the rivers to discharge into the Lagoon, making it swell), Scirocco (southerly wind, pressing sea water into the Lagoon), and Bora (northerly wind, which feels icy cold and blew so strong that vaporetti were lifted onto the embankments and destroyed and waves became pure disaster). Storms like these happen more often as the climate changes and also caused heavy rain in other parts of Italy and in Dalmatia.
You can read Iris’s post on the terrible night here.
As I explained on an interview on Euronews: it always snows in the mountains and people go skiing. One day you get an avalanche! This is what happened in Venice: we are used to the acqua alta phenomenon, but not to this extraordinary intake of water, in such a small time frame!
You can see my interview with Euronews:
The aftermath in Venice
As you can imagine, in the morning of the 13th November, the images of destruction were circulating on all medias.
Or at least, they were circulating on all personal FB profiles and Twitter feed, because unfortunately, all media started to post photos of people swimming in the acqua alta, stripping themselves taking selfies and tourists trying to get across the water with their plastic throw away boots and their luggage.
Not a single photo or video of the poor Venetians cleaning up their homes and shops in tears, throwing away hundreds of bags full of a lifetime of sacrifices, trying to get back to normality, knowing that the worst has not passed, since there are more high tide forecast till the weekend!
Because this is the state of Venice now for the world: a place where the inconvenience to the tourists is more important than the tragedy, which struck the citizens of the city!
While the Venetians were pulling their sleeves up, grinning their teeth and putting their homes and businesses back to normality, there were tourists going around the city complaining, annoyed that there were no places open for drinks and a meal; there were organised groups getting off the big tourist boats, getting upset because the local museums were closed; there were Corporate team-building groups running around the city on Orienteering Game activities, laughing at the locals on their knees in desperation, taking selfies in the high water, which they found extremely funny; there were tourists getting angry because the various activities they booked for got cancelled.
We are sorry Veniceland broke!
Sorry for the inconvenience caused – we will try to get it back to business as soon as possible!
This makes me so angry!
As my friend Susan Ellenman Meyers said:
I know of no other tourist locations that have suffered catastrophic events tsunamis, earthquakes, etc, where tourists think it’s ok to be there having fun. It’s really obscene. Society is so quick to lend a hand to people who are suffering catastrophes, how is what has happened in Venice any different?
Before recording the interview with Euronews, I asked my Venetian people if they had a message they wanted me to get across. This is what some of them said:
Monica Gambarotto (official Venice guide): “High water is not a tourist attraction!”
Fabio Vianello of 2night: “To the man who was swimming in Saint Mark’s Square during the high water: Bathing in Piazza San Marco at this tragic times, is like using the embers of a burning house to have a barbecue.”
Mg Emiliani of Antichita Al Ghetto: “Not only does the Mose not work (since it has not even been finished after 26 years!) but even the Centro Maree has not been very reliable for some years now. If they had issued the alarm earlier, perhaps more could have been saved.”
Lucia Marcolin: “Venice – Art heritage as a poorly managed and exploited resource without coherence – it is not dignified to squeeze lemons like this. Conscious tourism as a leitmotif for an Italy that has everything and could live from it if it understood that it is not a low-level bazaar or a kasbah.”
Mirta Baratto: “Monica, talk about all the boys and girls that went around offering their help. There are not only jackals and exhibitionists.”
Everybody keeps asking me how to help.
For a start let’s help all of the local Venice artisans in a simple way which you can easily do from home: for Christmas, instead of buying your gifts from Amazon or other big corporate group, grab yourself a unique gift from a Venetian Artisan. Visit their websites and order online; you will help them getting back on their feet and at the same time you will get a unique handcrafted special gift!
Win-win situation! You know where your money goes and you get something in return!
See my article on Venetian Artisans here.
Do not stop coming to Venice, on the contrary – give the people a few days to allow them to get back to normality and then visit the city but make sure to invest locally.
As my friend Marta of Quanto Basta said:
“ For those asking me if we got damages: yes, we have a lot. We threw away all the food, all of the equipment (fridges, ovens, ice cream makers, displays) all was under water for hours…all ruined. We are talking about hundreds thousand Euro!
What we are asking, as small business owners, not belonging to the big brands which can cope with something like this, is for you to do not go and have an ice cream in the big chains, like Gromm or Magnun, to not go for a meal or a coffee to Mcdonalds or Burger King.
Try to go to the small outlets. We can clean up and get back on our feet, but we will never make it if we do not have customers.
Ps: to stop for a coffee and the use of the toilet (which is out of function anyway) is not helping us, is killing us!”
The message is: go and eat in the local restaurant, buy from the local artisans, use the local guides!
This is the only way you can really help the city!
#venice #acquaalta #acquagranda #12november2019 #flood0