On the Ground Report: Flooding in Venice

By Wailana Kalama, WIT Correspondent

Venice has been in the news all the last two weeks, and some of you may be wondering: What’s it like in Venice right now?

I was just there last week and here to give my on-the-ground report!

Every winter, Venice floods. All of Venice can handle 1 meter. From 1.10, flooding starts somewhere. I won’t waste time recapping what’s been on the news, but instead give you a sense of what it was like day to day. 

November 13 – Breaking News

It was two days before we were to fly out to Venice when I saw the headlines: major flooding. Destruction of sites. Highest water levels since the 1960s. I sent the news on to my brother, whom I was supposed to meet in Venice, and he replied: So what do we do? Do we cancel? I told him let’s wait and see. He’d have to cancel the hotel, train tickets, everything, and reroute his family of four to another city. It was a lot of trouble. (And for travel insurance companies, likely an Act of God.) 

November 14 – Should We Cancel?

“Cancel? Why would we cancel?” My partner asked me the night before we were due to fly out to Venice. I had just read that the Mayor of Venice declared a state of emergency. The news had a map with a scarlet red circle encapsulating Venice. His comments were echoed in a recent article I read about how for the tourists, “Venice’s Flooding Has Become Another Tourist Attraction”

“Tourists are enjoying the high tide, and the floods, very much. It’s picturesque. You have a very old city flooded with water. Visually, it’s beautiful. For tourists, it’s another attraction.”

November 15 – Arrival in Venice

Half a day later, we were on the train, rolling across the bridge from the mainland. It was raining heavily that day. The waters had risen up so much it looks like we were entering some sort of Waterworld, and it felt almost as if “this train exists out of time,” as my partner said. Fortunately, we had brought tall rain boots and an umbrella. By the time we had checked in at our hotel, the rain had stopped. 

November 16 – The Sun Returns!

An amazing day. Sunlight, warm, no rain or flooding. Some pools of water here and there. We walked around in rain boots just in case. 

November 17 – The Flooding Returns!

On this day, the flooding returned. This was the worst day while I was there. We were staying in Dorsoduro, one of the lower neighborhoods. Across the Grand Canal is San Marco. St. Mark’s Square is apparently the lowest part of Venice, and thus all the dramatic photos of the square flooded. 

Our hotel keeper had warned us to head North in the morning. By 10am, water levels were shin-high. Shops were mostly closed except for the odd sandwich shop and bar. Most had installed wooden barriers on their doors to keep the water out. Some even had electric pumps pumping out the water. 

We walked to Cannaregio, the north part of Venice. It was a slow process. I could wade in the water as long as I did it slowly, in long strides. Trying to go fast would just result in splashing an annoyed neighbor. 

A lot of people were walking around with hip-high galoshes. A few tourists, bootless, stayed on the bridges in their sneakers and looked out nervously at the water. In smaller alleyways, the smell was one of sewage. 

November 18 – Back to Normal Water Levels

The water receded back to normal levels, and there was even some sunlight on this day. Shops were reopening and everyone was talking about the flood. I asked a few shopkeepers in San Marco about the damage they had suffered. They had lost a few things, but most people had spent the better part of the day before the flooding packing the shelves. One printmaker said she had been cleaning the shop for hours, and would probably be cleaning into the next day. 

Verdict – Status Quo

As of the time I’m writing this, water levels have gone back to normal. Shops are open and business in Venice is as usual. If you’re interested, you can keep in touch with the Tide Cast for Venice, available here (in Italian). 

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