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Floodwaters engulf Venice again just days after near-record high tide

“The sea is rising, this is not in 10 or 15 years. This is now,” gondolier Roberto Nardin said. “The only thing we can do is be here and hope.”

VENICE, Italy — The murky brown water was thigh-high and still rising in Venice's St. Mark's Basilica on Friday morning as yet another “acqua alta” engulfed this lagoon city.

The tide peaked at 5 feet at 11:35 a.m. local time (05:35 a.m. ET), meaning 70 percent of the city was submerged. That's less than the 6 feet 2 inches it hit Tuesday, but still exceptionally high.

Even as Venetians attempted to recover from the floods that washed through the city's winding streets earlier this week, they were already beginning to deal with the next disaster.

Many blame climate change, corruption and greed for allowing the floodwater to ravage local businesses, homes and even the city’s historic St. Mark's Basilica in the city's main square. A project to build a sea barrier to defend the city is still not completed more than 50 years after the government asked engineers to draw up plans.

Gondolier Roberto Nardin says he is outraged.

“The sea is rising, this is not in 10 or 15 years. This is now,” Nardin, whose gondola hit a lamppost, said. “The only thing we can do is be here and hope.”

The government declared a state of emergency Wednesday to help swiftly secure the city funds to repair the destruction. The water level Tuesday was 2 inches shy of matching the highest levels on record — the devastating 6 feet 4 inches surge of November 1966.

But for some Venetians, it was too little too late.

Image: Pier Giorgio Vedovato
Pier Giorgio Vedovato, owner of Fasoli, a Patek Philippe dealership in Venice.Mac Bishop / NBC News

"I have no faith in local or national governments to change anything," said Pier Giorgio Vedovato, 43, who owns a watch dealership near St. Mark's Square. "The Mose investment was a waste of billions through corruption and mismanagement," he added, referring to the sea barrier project.

The streets of Venice were nearly deserted Friday morning as residents and tourists sheltered indoors and St. Mark's Square was evacuated by police. Shopkeepers struggled to keep the water off their premises, frantically sweeping it away or pumping it out. Outside, the tide swept the contents of Venice's trash cans through its winding alleyways.

"The water is rising fast," said Lorenza Mariutti, one of the policemen making sure St. Mark's Square was empty. "We need to clear the area to allow the authorities, as well as the owners, to stop, clear out the water as soon as it comes in.”

And yet, despite the frustration and the millions of euros of damage inflicted on the city, some Venetians like Vedovato say they are determined to stay put no matter what.

"I'm going to continue to hold tight, I'm determined to support my birth city," he said, waiting for the tide to recede so he could begin clearing up.

Image: People sit on benches in a flooded arcade by St. Mark's Square
People sit on benches in a flooded arcade by St. Mark's Square on Friday. Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images

Matteo Rado, who owns a restaurant with a view of the main waterfront, said he also would never consider giving up and moving out even if the waters continue to rise.

"To say: 'That's enough of Venice'? Never," he told Reuters.

But others have had enough of the persistent flooding that is an inescapable part of life in the canal crisscrossed city.

"I'm seriously considering moving the business out of Venice," said Davide Montanari, 58, whose leather goods store is located up a couple of steps in the covered walkway of the square.

A woman walks across the flooded St. Mark's Square in front of St. Mark's Basilica on Friday. Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images

Montanari said normally when there’s flooding in the piazza, it wouldn’t breach the steps but this year the store has been flooded three times — twice in the past week.

Saphora Smith reported from London; Erin McLaughlin, Mac Bishop and Claudio Lavanga reported from Venice.