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VENICE´S mayor has blamed climate change after the worst floods in 50 years left 85 per cent of the popular tourist destination under water.

City officials said the tide peaked at 187cm (6.14ft) at 10.50pm yesterday, just short of the 194cm seen in 1966. Two people have died.

Social media images show tourists and locals wading through the high water, and taxi boats grounded on walkways by the side of the city’s canals. The Italian coastguard is now providing extra boats for use as water ambulances.

The city tweeted: “#Venezia is experiencing one of the longest nights.” Many of the city’s historic squares were left deep underwater.

Saint Mark’s Square received more than a metre (3.3ft) of water and Saint Mark’s Basilica was flooded for only the sixth time in 1,200 years – four of those being in the last two decades.

The extent of damage to the historical church is not clear but when it last flooded in 2018, its administrator said it had aged 20 years in a single day.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro appealed to the government for help today and requested a state of emergency in order to release funds. He said the cost will be high and will be an “indelible wound.

He also called for the completion of an off-shore barrier project which has faced long delays, cost overruns and scandals. The construction of the sea barrier, known as MOSE, began in 2003 but is not expected to be completed until 2022.

Visitors used temporary platforms above the water, while others battled through the floods. Cafes, stores and other businesses were inundated by high water and nursery schools were closed as a precaution.

The high water is known locally as “acqua alta” but even low levels take their toll, eroding the foundations of buildings.

The city said 52 civil protection volunteers are working together with local police, law enforcement, firefighters and Suem 118, the city´s emergency services.

Flooding in Venice takes place when unusually high tides push water from the Adriatic Sea into the Venetian Lagoon.

In the past, acqua alta only took place twice a year, in late fall and early spring. According to Europe for Venice, the flooding can now happen at any time, which it attributed to “ocean levels rising.”

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Shirin Aguiar