February 19, 2008 / 4:43 PM / 12 years ago

Sea levels in Venice plunge to 14-year low

Tourists sit in gondolas on the Grand Canal in front of the Rialto bridge in Venice September 3, 2006. Sea levels in the lagoon city of Venice plunged to a 14-year low this week, beaching some gondolas and exposing the canal-beds of famed waterways. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

VENICE (Reuters) - Sea levels in the lagoon city of Venice plunged to a 14-year low this week, beaching some gondolas and exposing the canal-beds of famed waterways.

The Centro Maree, whose forecasts are vital for organizing transport in Venice, said a high-pressure system set off a “Code White” alert that signals low sea levels.

Canals slipped on Monday to 80 centimeters (31.5 inches) below average sea level, the lowest since 1994, and remained at “Code White” levels on Tuesday. The lowest level recorded was 92 cm below in 1989.

“The forecasts have to be as accurate as possible because you can’t go down certain canals (at extremely low levels), so ambulance services need to be informed, the firemen need to be informed,” said Franca Pastore at the Centro Maree.

Venetians, long accustomed to floods and dry spells, were taking the swing in sea levels in their stride.

A gondola association said their business was still prospering, since only a tiny fraction of the city’s canals were off limits.

Being beached is hardly a top worry for Venetians. Instead, they are building a more than a multi-billion euro underwater dam system to save them from future floods that threaten the city’s survival.

Centro Maree said the low water levels were expected to persist throughout midweek before returning to normal.

Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Charles Dick

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