Controversial and long-delayed underwater barriers to protect Venice from its notorious high tides were being deployed for the first time Saturday, against a forecast 130-centimetre flood.
Authorities prepared the system for deployment during the flooding season after the lagoon city was inundated with the worst tides in 53 years last November. An increased frequency of high water brought on by climate change has added urgency to the completion of the project.
While the 78 barriers have all been installed, some infrastructure is still being completed. Eventually, the system will be deployed when tides of 110 centimetres (43 inches) are forecast, but while work is still underway the project's special commissioners have set a threshold of 130 centimetres.
Floodwaters are forecast to reach that level around midday, which without the barriers would flood about half of the city. This will be the first real-world test of the system.
In view of the forecast, port authorities have banned shipping traffic through the three access points where the barriers are installed until 4:30 p.m.
The system of movable underwater barriers, dubbed Moses, has been beset by corruption, cost overruns and delays. Projected at 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) and meant to be completed by 2011, the project has so far cost 5.5 billion euros and is running more than a decade behind schedule.