Venice was hit with its highest tide in 50 years on Tuesday, killing at least one person and causing flooding that could cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
Eighty-five percent of the Italian city was flooded during the so-called “acqua alta,” which covered Venice in water levels of just over six feet, the Washington Post reported.
Photos of spots popular with tourists, like St. Mark’s Square, show people wading through the knee-deep tide as water splashes up against the ground floor of restaurants and shops surrounding the piazza.
“I have never seen something like what I saw [Tuesday] afternoon at St. Mark’s Square,” Francesco Moraglia, the Patriarch of St Mark’s Basilica Monsignor, told reporters, according to CNN. “There were waves as if we were at the beach.”
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro described a similar chaotic scene, telling Italian station Radio24, “I’ve seen things in San Marco I never thought I’d see. It’s a very difficult situation,” according to The New York Times.
An elderly man was reportedly killed as a result of the tide after he tried to run electric pumps at his home on the island of Pellestrina, CNN reported.
Brugnaro blamed the extreme flooding on climate change, and said in a news conference that the damage costs could exceed “hundreds of millions of euros,” the Times reported.
“I found people in tears because they had lost everything,” he said. “If we don’t want the city to be abandoned, we have to give certain answers. It’s not just about quantifying the damages, but about the future of this city.”
Schools were closed on Wednesday and Thursday, and authorities were reportedly calling for a state of emergency to be imposed.
The flooding was the worst the city has seen in more than 50 years, when water levels peaked at 6.3 feet in 1966, the Times reported.
A flood barrier designed in 1984 to protect the city has long been delayed by various problems, including corruption and cost overruns, NBC News reported.
The gate, called Mose, is expected to be operating by 2021 — 10 years after its original expected date.