Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Flood waters drench city of Venice


The historic centre of Venice, deep under water

More than half of the Italian city of Venice is flooded, after water levels rose to their highest point this year.

Strong winds and heavy rains, as well as the lagoon city's changing tide levels, have contributed to the high water levels, officials said.

The waters in some parts of the Renaissance city reached 143cm (56in) above sea level.

This is the 11th highest level since records began and experts fear it may rise even further early next year.

"As well as the rain, which played a big part, strong sirocco winds swelled the flood tide, combining to bring one of the biggest recent events," an expert quoted by Italian news agency Ansa said.

Levels in January may reach as high as 150cm above sea level, according to some estimates.

The record for high water levels, known as "acqua alta", dates from 1966 when waters surged to almost two metres above sea level in the city, causing great damage to its buildings.

The city is no stranger to flooding; residents don rubber boots and cross streets and squares on a series of wooden walkways erected each time the waters rise.

A system of responsive flood barriers is also being built.

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